ISP Announces It's Blocking All Facebook And Google Ads Until Companies Pay A Troll Toll

from the entitlement-mindset dept

By now you’re probably familiar with the narrative pushed by some ISPs that they are somehow owed a cut of advertising and content revenue simply because content company traffic touches their network. The idea that ISPs should be allowed to double dip in this fashion was an idea first floated by former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre, who truly set off the net neutrality fight in the States back in 2005 by proudly and stupidly declaring that Google shouldn’t be able to “ride his pipes for free.” The narrative is still often used here in the States by net neutrality opponents, usually with Netflix portrayed as the hungry, selfish bogeyman.

The idiotic belief that content companies should be charged an additional “telco tax” to fund network upgrades has since wormed its way into pampered, duopoly telco board rooms worldwide. The latest case in point: Caribbean and South Pacific ISP Digicel has started blocking Google and Facebook ads from appearing on the company’s mobile network in the apparent belief that the service provider is owed a slice of these companies’ ad revenues. In a notice posted to the Digicel website, this move is framed as something that was motivated purely for altruistic, pro-consumer reasons:

“(Digicel is) deploying ad control technology at the network level on its networks across the globe to ensure a better experience for customers and to encourage the likes of Google, Facebook and Yahoo to help connect the 4.2 billion unconnected people across the globe. Ad control technology benefits both consumers and network operators alike. With ads using up as much as 10% of a customers? data plan allowance, this move will allow customers to browse the mobile web and apps without interruption from unwanted advertising messages.”

What sweethearts. Of course, the notice then proceeds to make it clear what this is really about. And that’s Digicel and billionaire owner Denis O’Brien’s belief that they are owed a cut of content company ad revenue simply because content company traffic touches their network:

“Companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook talk a great game and take a lot of credit when it comes to pushing the idea of broadband for all ? but they put no money in. Instead they unashamedly trade off the efforts and investments of network operators like Digicel to make money for themselves. That?s unacceptable, and we as a network operator, are taking a stand against them to force them to put their hands in their pockets and play a real role in improving the opportunities for economic empowerment for the global population.?”

O’Brien’s been mentioned by Techdirt previously for attempts to sue satirists for so much as joking about him, so hopefully he doesn’t take offense when I note that both he and Digicel are utterly full of crap here. The cornerstone of the ISPs’ flimsy entitlement argument almost always involves claiming that companies like Google, Netflix, and others get a “free ride” on ISP networks. We’ve debunked this idea time and time again, even going so far as to urge these folks to pay Netflix’s bandwidth bill for a month if they truly believe content companies don’t pay for bandwidth and transit. Strangely, we’ve yet to be taken up on the offer.

Of course, the idea that Google, which is spending billions on wireless service and fiber to the home, “puts no money in” is laughable. Not only do these companies pay plenty for bandwidth, they own half-a-planet’s worth of transit and content delivery networks at this point; and that’s before you even get into their last-mile broadband efforts, where they’re busy exploring everything from 3.5GHz wireless experiments to broadband by hot air balloon and drone in a quest to expand their global ad empires.

Of course, many of these efforts challenge the stranglehold legacy telecom companies have enjoyed for a generation or more, and the predominant response to this new economy evolution has been not to compete — but to pout. Indeed, O’Brien’s tirades are little more than the crying of a pampered child who is — obviously for the first time in a long while — being told he’s not able to eat the entire carton of ice cream in one sitting.

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Companies: digicel, facebook, google

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Comments on “ISP Announces It's Blocking All Facebook And Google Ads Until Companies Pay A Troll Toll”

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DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Dear ISP

Dear ISP (both landline and mobile):

Google, Netflix, Facebook, etc are not riding your pipes for free.

They pay their bandwidth bill, handsomely, at their end of the connection.

It is YOUR OWN CUSTOMERS who are using your bandwidth. YOUR CUSTOMERS are choosing to go to Google, or to whatever sites that use whatever bandwidth that customer uses. (Note: your customer might not even use Google at all, but still uses your bandwidth.)

If you need to build and develop your network, then it is YOUR CUSTOMERS who pay for that. Not the rest of the world.

(Pay attention Comcast, since you should hear this too.)

Here are a few other things to consider.

What if Google encrypts all communication between YOUR CUSTOMER and Google’s servers? You would have no idea what packets are ads, email, video, instant messages, or anything else. You could only block all or nothing.

I suppose you could just block all of Google. Facebook. Netflix. And every other important major internet property.

I’m sure that will make your customers very happy.

andy says:

Re: Re:

Or even easier google could just block all there services to the customers of said ISP and state that it is due to them not being able to recoup costs through advertising. I am more than sure that the ISP in question would firstly fire the idiot that decided this and the technical staff that said they could do it and then beg Google to just treat them like any other isp and remove all blocks.

That said google does have a hell of a lot of power, maybe too much?

Anonymous Coward says:

I would like it if all ISPs refused to pass any ads or commercials on the internet. The only problem with this idea is they then get to thinking they could be the ones getting the ad income by force feeding to your browser.

I will not accept ads from an ISP any quicker than I will accept them from the internet as a whole. I extremely dislike the datamining that comes with it. So I ensure I will not receive these ads, since everyone and their brother seems to think it is their god given right to disrupt your surfing for their greed. I pay for access, that doesn’t mean I agree to being a roving eyeball for the purpose of serving me what I don’t want.

Jack says:

Re: Re:

No ISP should be modifying packets between a server and a customer. What is more worrying, and should worry you and Digicel customers, is how they hell Digicel is going to remove Ads over TLS… And this is coming from someone who has been paid obscene amounts of money from Digical as a developer building an advertising framework for them…

I mean, what company doesn’t pay absurd amounts of money to granularly track their customers traffic (to creepy levels) in order to maximize advertising revenue through an RTB platform while at the same time blocking other people’s ad traffic…

Yeah, kudos to Digicel for their stand against advertising…/s

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The only problem with this idea is they then get to thinking they could be the ones getting the ad income by force feeding to your browser.

And if I’m not mistaken, your ISP is in a position to make it very difficult to block ads if they wanted to. Ad blockers work by refusing connections to known advertising sites. What do they do if as far as your computer can tell the content is all coming from the domain you requested, but the ISP inserted ads into it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Would be hard to argue that this would be a copyright issue while not saying the exact same thing for ad blocking apps.

Interesting, does the ISP HAVE to allow ads? I guess you could say there is some net neutrality issues here, but if not, I see no reason why an ISP can’t do this?

It is not like the users want to have these ads anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Would be hard to argue that this would be a copyright issue while not saying the exact same thing for ad blocking apps.

The reader of a copyrighted work is not required to read all adverts, and can easily skip them, however they are not allowed to give a copy of the work stripped of ads to their friends.
This is difference between the recipient deciding what they want to read, and a third part deciding what they can read.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Isn’t this a clear example of why Net Neutrality should be enforced? The ISPs should be pipes — they should not be looking at what is being carried through those pipes.

That they can do this is obvious. My impression was that with the Net Neutrality regulations they should not be allowed to do this, at least not without penalties.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thats exactly my thought

Google and Facebook should only send a single page of HTML to all of this ISP’s customers:
“Your ISP is blocking our traffic, call them at 1-800-carpISP and tell them to ‘stop blocking Google and Facebook'”

I suspect the block would be removed without hours.
Unless this is the ONLY ISP option for these customers…..

Another Anonymous says:

Re: Re:

Just use an ad blocker plugin for your browser (Ad Block for Firefox, etc.). This gives you full control of what you see. It makes the internet far more enjoyable.

Turning over control of what you see to an intermediate censor is a bad idea. That censor will always try to use it to benefit itself, not you.

Anonymous Coward says:

@ "Google, which is spending billions on wireless service and fiber to the home" is not even pure crap!

WHERE? Google Fiber is still about 27,000 subscribers. Wireless too is thus far a few small demonstrations.

Show me alleged “billions”. That means at least TWO, and “spending” means current, not past.

I am willing to be convinced IF you can come up with citation, but pretty sure you just dropped in a factoid from out of the blue.

As for topic, sounds like a good idea to re-distribute from monopolies of Google and Facebook.

Meanwhile, here’s what real (old-school) economist Robert Reich is writing about current monopolies:

Why Big Tech May Be Getting Too Big

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: @ "Google, which is spending billions on wireless service and fiber to the home" is not even pure crap!

Indeed, Blue’s tirades are little more than the crying of a pampered child who is — obviously for the first time in a long while — being told he’s not able to eat the entire carton of ice cream in one sitting.


AJ says:

What happens if google stops allowing IP’s that originate from the ISP’s that are doing this, access to their products?

Maybe have their subscribers get a page that says “Your ISP is blocking our ads, the very ads that pay for the services that your trying to access, please contact your ISP for removal of these blocks, and we will restore access to these services.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This would hurt the consumer as Google is holding them hostage in a fight they’re not involved in.

People wouldn’t understand the message, what they DO understand is that they can’t read their facebook/google and as such will blame facebook/google instead.

This is a Bad Thing ™.

I do support these legacy ISP efforts though! Because HTTP traffic is especially vulnerable to this, forcing the world to improve HTTPS faster (The CA infrastructure needs a major overhaul) and further since HTTPS doesn’t hide the host being looked at (Tor for everyone?).

So yeah, you go Digicel! Force the world to improve safety, privacy and anonymity on the web!

streetlight (profile) says:

Re: Sounds like retransmission fees

Maybe have their subscribers get a page that says “Your ISP is blocking our ads, the very ads that pay for the services that your trying to access, please contact your ISP for removal of these blocks, and we will restore access to these services.”

One could rewrite this: Your Cable TV company is blocking our content, since it is not paying us the retransmission fee we require, so please contact your Cable TV provider and ask it to pay for our content, and its attending ads, and we will resume providing you with our entertainment.

Scote (profile) says:

Well, clearly this rent seeking ISP is spouting nonsense. Google and Facebook should just block all traffic to the ISP since the ISP is so interested in protecting the bandwidth of its customers.

However, I do have a little bit of sympathy for the idea that advertisement waste customer bandwidth. I am rather offended when I go to a website and there is an auto playing video ad, or autoplay anything, “stealing” my bandwith without my actually agreeing to the high bandwidth use by my clicking on it. That’s a real thing I think. But not something that justifies this ISP’s actions.

David says:

That's not the issue

Of course, the idea that Google, which is spending billions on wireless service and fiber to the home, “puts no money in” is laughable.

That’s not the issue. The issue is that the service providers are getting paid by their subscribers for providing access to the Internet, including Google. Those ads are part of the content the users are receiving on demand. Now the basic structure of HTML pages makes it hard not to receive that additional content which is often ignored and not all that rarely unwelcome.

But the point is that this is an issue between the end user and the web service provider. The Internet provider has as little say in it as my employer has in the nutritional value of bread I buy at the grocery. Yes, I buy it with money I received from him, but that money is accounted for. Anything else is my responsibility and he has to keep his nose out.

Similar to the Internet traffic on my behalf that I have already paid for.

AdamF (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“How is this different from any other ad blocking issue, besides the fact that it is done by the user and not the network owner?”

It is the user’s data, so the user should be able to display it in whatever way they want (pink text on black background, or no adds, or no pictures whatsoever, …). ISP would be meddling in something that is not theirs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Because it’s done by the user and not the network owner.

ISPs are not ones to decide what you can or can’t see on their networks. They are just mere conduits and thus, not liable over what happens on their network; the same as a highway administrator isn’t liable of what you’re using their highways for, even if it’s to escape from the police after robbing a bank.

That same principle that protects them from such liability also implies that they don’t, and shouldn’t, know nothing about what happens on their networks. Particularly by the fact that they are invading your privacy by doing so, and that’s against the constitution and Human Rights.

That means that a network owner has no say about what you use their networks for, as long as you pay the bills and the activity done on them isn’t illegal, and then it’s a court’s job to determine what to do, not theirs.

If a user blocks ads, that’s their own choice. They are in the perfect right to do so. But a network operator has no right to take that choice away from them.

Other thing would have been if they advised and supplied if needed, their customers to install an ad-block software because those ads, whether they pay or not, are using bandwith from their users on mobile networks.

Because, let’s be honest here: it’s not like the ISP would pay their customers for seeing those ads if by any chance Google coughed up the money. In fact, maybe they’d try to find a way to forbid their customers from blocking those same ads, lol.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: This may be a good thing to happen

Not quite.

HTTPS would only allow the ISP to see that I have opened a connection to and not necessarily which page I’ve downloaded. However, if there are Google ads on Techdirt, then my browser would form a separate https connection to (or whatever).

It’s not hard for the ISP to just block content from without blocking any content from itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

At some point Google and others might end up flexing their own muscles and showing someone the power they have: cut the access to all their services to that same ISP’s customers. As a business they are in their right to do so too.

Put a proper page (like: we are blocking you because your ISP is being bad with us) and see the customers going on flames at their ISP because they can’t connect to their emails or they can’t log in Facebook.

And those who talk about Google’s monopoly. True, they got some sort of monopoly rolling over there, and they can be blamed from some shady tactics they use that they really shouldn’t.

On the other hand, their monopoly isn’t based on mere marked domination through power, but rather, on giving their customers what they want.

Reliable search engine? You got that (and it would be even more reliable if people stopped blaming it for everything that happens on the internet).
Good email service without so many ads that makes surfing more like sinking? Also got that, particularly when the alternative was hotmail that was full of ads, and had a minimal storage capacity.
Maps? Translation service? Storage drive? Googledocs?

You see, they may have some things left to brush up regarding some stuff, but you can’t say that they don’t have some very useful apps there.

They got big, and are mostly a monopoly on that sector because the other companies allowed them to. Give your customers what they want and you’ll get them flocking to you.

Microsoft might have had the chance of being as big as Google, if they didn’t screw so much with their policies. The latest Windows 10 policies don’t help much with their reputation, particularly regarding the privacy of their customers (Google isn’t perfect there, but I’d say it’s better, or at least more transparent and willing to listen to the backlash generated).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

We are talking about the general public here, not about people who are tech savvy and even if they don’t know how, they can google it and search for a few tutorials about how to set one.

You can make your own car, but most people use pre-made cars because they don’t have a workshop, nor the knowledge to make one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

John, have you ever checked what people ask on online forums nowadays (and before too)?

I remember someone that put some links inside a pastebin text being complained by the users that couldn’t figure out how to connect to those links (a simple copy paste would have done it).

Your average user can’t even figure how to turn on his computer on rainy days.

Tech savvy? Ask around non-geek friends. IRC is like a black box for many people. Don’t expect them to figure out by themselves that you can set up your own email program.

The bar is low, because many people don’t even have the attitude to search for what they don’t know. Just see how many people ask for things that can be solved by a simple Google search.

And my bet is that most of those that use Outlook haven’t figured out that they are actually using an email program.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes, I know that there are a lot of people (most people, even) who are almost completely ignorant of how these things work.

My point is that someone who is a bit above that — not an expert, but can do basic things like use an email program — are being called “tech-savvy” now. It wasn’t that long ago that someone who was “tech-savvy” was a power user at a minimum. Someone is not a power user simply because they know how to use an email client.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

My point is that someone who is a bit above that — not an expert, but can do basic things like use an email program — are being called “tech-savvy” now.

I used to use the term “application idiot” for someone who could do all the basic stuff and even some advanced stuff within a specific program they used everyday, but were completely lost when the desktop icon for that program was inadvertently deleted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Because for most people, knowing even that such programs exist is like talking about quantum thaumaturgy.

Well, implictly I was talking about “tech savvy users”, rather than about people who make and program their own stuff.

Yeah, those are what you call mainly “power users”.

Well, not completely. I consider someone to be tech savvy when he at least has the curiosity to learn about their stuff and to progress up that ladder, at their own pace.

For me it isn’t a matter of knowledge but rather, of having the proper attitude towards technology.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Man, I’m getting shocked on how little people know about their electronics. A person I know looked at me puzzled when I asked her to put her e-mail and password on an android phone I reset to fix some issues. She said that somebody else set up the e-mail and the phone which means somebody has access to everything she does and the simply thinks things work by magic. And when I started explaining the very “retarded level” basics of what’s a password and why she should be more careful she gave me that exasperated look people put on when they don’t understand technical stuff. Scary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Unlisted Service...

I can envision a day when ISPs provide a service for “consumers” that effectively blocks “all” ad content.

I mean we’re at the point of saying why not, I could have a phone number unlisted, same thing, different technology. Instead of print it removes unwanted solicitations from my electronic communications. ISPs could make a few bucks removing the ads in their service offering before they make our “throttled” connections.

The inverse is already happening, Adblock has a white list of ads that pass through. AT&T and Verizon want some content not to count against usage caps for companies that paid them directly.

However one looks at it, the user is always the product or pays to stop from being the product. Ain’t consumerism great?!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Unlisted Service...

“I can envision a day when ISPs provide a service for “consumers” that effectively blocks “all” ad content”

Various ISPs have offered this sort of service for decades. It’s harder to find now that most ISPs have vanished, but you can still find some that do this.

There’s no problem with an ISP offering a value-add service like this, as long as customers have to opt in to it. The problem is when ISPs do it without the customer’s knowledge or approval.

Daniel says:

Any Lawyers?

Can’t I just sue the providers for not allowing me to get Google’s ads? I have purchased stuff off ads, just as I’ve purchased stuff off store ads in the snailmail. They do ‘sometimes, almost never’ have a benefit.

While they’re blocking Google’s content, they’re removing my opportunity to see these by monopolizing the internet around me. I can’t just go to a new ISP.

I want to sue somebody and get rich.. Who’s with me!

John85851 (profile) says:


As with the European news organizations who want a cut from Google’s traffic, how did we get to a point where so many people are so greedy?
This is yet another case of someone in charge saying “They’re making more money than us, so how can we get some of that money”. Yet they don’t realize they’re making plenty of money connecting their own customers to sites like Google.

Sunhawk says:

It’s a reasonably clever move, in that they’re unlikely to get hit in the pocketbook by their customers for blocking google and facebook ads.

And Google and Facebook are extremely unlikely to cut a deal to give some of their ad money – it sets a very unfortunate precedent for either company.

I’m not sure if Google and/or Facebook are willing (or able – IANAL) to go after the ISP themselves in court. Too small beans.

The two companies might take this as an incentive to alter how ads are served to make them harder to block or encouraging HTTPS use… or they might simply ignore it.

Now, the expected next step (ad injection) *will* probably cause the ISP problems with their customers and almost certainly legal trouble. And, let’s be honest, the ISP doesn’t care about whether their customers get hit with ads and they almost certainly don’t have bandwidth worries, so when Google and Facebook don’t pay up they’re going to be injecting ads of their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

So where is Whatever declaring that he is so against anarchy and in favor of net neutrality. Where is he complaining about how the ISPs are able to do whatever they want with no laws to follow and how this is anarchy and we need rules and laws that ISPs must follow for moral reasons and the betterment of society. I thought Whatever is against anarchy. Why isn’t he here declaring this corporate anarchy detestable?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Whatever believes himself to benefit from this because 1: It’s supposedly anti-Google and 2: He doesn’t consider himself to suffer from this, so it merits its full support. Given his self-important stance, Whatever’s not going to speak out against something that will clearly keep the proles in line.

Or that’s what he’d like to think. If everyone is forced to pay a troll tax the natural solution everyone would follow would be to get rid of the trolls, and that would include him, average_joe, Slonecker, Mark Syman, Richard Bennett and the other people who think blue spamming his shit over and over is intellectual ambrosia.

Gabriel (profile) says:

If there were a free market in last mile access, I’d have no problem with this at all. An ISP should be free to play silly buggers with my data stream, and I should be free to dump them and switch to a company that commits to being a hands-off dumb pipe.

Since most ISP markets are nothing resembling free, I think the next best solution is to require providers to pay for their exclusivity with a commitment to do their job of delivering the content I request honestly and responsibly.

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