Column: Customer forgotten in ISP row

Netiquette has gone out the window in the brawling between Xtra and Voayger.

Would you rip up the roads so customers couldn’t go to your competitors?

That’s the true import of Xtra’s blocking of communication between its customers and those of rival ISP Voyager. The action goes way beyond the usual sharp-elbowed competitive practice and attacks the whole bedrock on which the Internet is based.

Xtra replies that its action was in response to a similarly underhand tactic--Voyager had not only “fingered” Xtra’s database and then spammed its users, but had been caught fingering Xtra again and was about to pull off another spam.

Xtra has a point. The fingering is decidedly marginal behaviour, and the use that information was put to is, in terms of netiquette, a big no-no.

From a legal point of view, the ISP is also possibly in breach of the Privacy Act in that it used personal information for a purpose other than that for which it was provided.

So far as is known, however, no complaints have been made.

The biggest concern, though, is that this is only the latest, and so far the worst, case of an ISP acting in a way that cuts right across Net practice in order to fight its competitors.

There has been a third, unrelated incident over the past month--the complaint by Hawke’s Bay ISP owner Ross Allan about the pornographic binaries accessible via Xtra.

Allan made it clear, in a posting to nz.general newsgroup, his motives were as much commercial as moral. Xtra’s users would still be able to access such material, but it would be located overseas. This, he says, “will lead to more use of Xtra’s international capacity so that their costs are more in line with those of other ISP’s around the country”. Like, for example, his own.

This is a nasty, short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating trend.

Competitive behaviour is one thing, but when ISPs start ripping up the foundations of the Internet in a search for stones to hurl at rivals a line has been crossed.

No one wins. Customers--remember them?--get turned off and the wider community sees another bad news Internet story and draws its own conclusions.

The only hope is that cooler heads will prevail. If the code of practice currently being put together by the Internet Society (which has been far more active, and far more effective, behind the scenes in this latest Xtra-Voyager spat than most realise or would give it credit for) has some real teeth, this sort of self-destructive feeding frenzy can be minimised.

It had better be--and soon. Enough is enough.

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