Last month we wrote about the Swedish ISP, Bahnhof, and its decision to stage a bit of an online protest by putting up a "block" page for publisher Elsevier and a local court, after Elsevier pushed the court to force Bahnhof to block Sci-Hub over infringement claims. As we noted in our post, many people we know cheered on this kind of "protest," but I wrote that we should not, as it appeared to be a clear net neutrality violation.
I understand why many people celebrated this. Elsevier is a terrible, terrible company that gets free academic labor (often supported by taxpayer dollars) and then locks up the results of their research, takes the copyright, and only allows universities paying subscription fees that run in the 10s of thousands of dollars to get access. And then they whine about piracy? Especially against a site like Sci-Hub whose entire existence is premised on academics being able to better share knowledge? It's not hard to see who's the villain here, and its name starts with an Else and ends in a vier.
And Bahnhof's "protest" felt karmic. Elsevier wants Bahnhof to block access to Sci-Hub? Well, fine, now Bahnhof will throw up a large (temporary, easily clicked through) "block" page on Elsevier's site (and the site of the court reviewing the case).
However, I noted that we shouldn't celebrate this scenario just because we agreed with Bahnhof/Sci-Hub and believed Elsevier deserves to disappear into history. To make the point, we suggested that you change the scenario around, and imagine another ISP, upset that its workers were striking and blocking access to a union website? Because that's happened. Or, let's make it even more direct: there are a bunch of pro-net neutrality protest sites in the US right now. How would we feel if Verizon "took a stand" against those by popping up a page telling you why it disagreed any time you went to visit one of those pages?
Some people said it wasn't a huge deal with Bahnhof, because the "block" was fake, and you could still click through to get to the real website. But, again, think about the Verizon/net neutrality protest page example above. Most people would be rightly furious that Verizon was inserting itself into their browsing decisions in such a manner. The same thing should apply here.
And, so, it shouldn't be a huge surprise that Bahnhof is now facing a net neutrality investigation in Sweden over this stunt:
An announcement by the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS), which acts as the national watchdog for the electronic communications and postal sectors, reveals that it has launched an investigation into Bahnhof’s actions.
“The Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) is investigating whether the internet service provider Bahnhof has taken measures to influence access to websites,” PTS says.
“A key rule in EU regulations in this area is that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally by providers of internet connection services. PTS’s task is to monitor and ensure that the provisions on an open internet, also called network neutrality, are complied with.”
Bahnhof, as an ISP, has actually been supportive of net neutrality (frankly, Bahnhof has been a model ISP on many important internet freedom issues). But, this kind of move is exactly what people should worry about happening if there is no net neutrality rules. ISPs are there to provide access to the wider web. And even if we were to agree with the points they're trying to make regarding copyright law, that's no reason to support the ISP stepping in to interfere with the browsing choices of its subscribers.