ISPs hog rights in fine print

April 5, 2008 7:34:39 PM PDT
In their subscriber contracts, some Internet providers explicitly absolve themselves of obligations that, it seems, no one would imagine they had in the first place.

For instance, Verizon Communications Inc. makes broadband subscribers agree that the company assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of things they may read on the Internet, or receive in e-mails. So don't complain to the company if that Wikipedia entry on wombats misstates their gestational period.

"Sometimes people think that everything they see online comes from their ISP or is somehow vetted and endorsed by the ISP," said Verizon spokeswoman Bobbi Henson.

Until March 3, Verizon also made subscribers agree that it does not own, operate or manage the Internet. That provision has now been eliminated because it's "generally well understood by most people" that Verizon does not own the Internet, while that may not have been the case in the early days of broadband, Henson said.

Another thing Verizon doesn't do for you, according to the Terms of Service: back up your hard drive.

Other ISPs try to ban nefarious practices like spamming and fraud with clauses so broad that it applies to a lot of legitimate activities.

Charter Communications, a cable company, forbids customers from altering or removing information from e-mail message headers, which sounds like they don't want you to change the subject line of an e-mail before forwarding it. Charter spokeswoman Anita Lamont said the company does not consider the subject line to be part of the header, and the provision is there to prevent people from forging headers to make it appear as if a message is coming from someone else.

AT&T Inc. prohibits users from posting to forums messages that could be expected to provoke complaints. Given that forums can be very touchy places, many messages could fall under this provision.

Windstream Communications bans "Satan" from its network, which sounds weird until you realize that it's referring to hacker software: System Administration Tool for Analyzing Networks, or SATAN.