by Timothy Lee
Wed, Nov 14th 2007 8:49pm
While Comcast has been getting a lot of flack for blocking BitTorrent, some network neutrality activists have also been calling out Verizon for the way its DNS servers work. The DNS specification requires that servers return an error if the user tries to look up an invalid domain name. Instead, Verizon's DNS servers re-direct users who mistype an address to a Verizon-branded search page where Verizon gets to display advertising. (Incidentally, my ISP, Charter, does the same thing.) I agree with Ed Felten that this "feature" is obnoxious, especially because it can break applications that expect to receive DNS error messages. But I don't think it's really a network neutrality issue. Verizon's DNS server does not "block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade" anyone's access to Internet content or services, which was the standard proposed in last year's Snowe-Dorgan legislation. Users who type correct URLs aren't impeded in any way from accessing the sites they want to visit. Responding to a failed DNS query with a search page is probably a bad idea, but it's very different from "redirecting a user from Google's search page to Verizon's," which the article implies Verizon might do in the future. Moreover, it's worth keeping in mind that you're not required to use your ISP's DNS server at all. ISPs provide DNS servers as a courtesy, the same way they might provide you with a free email account. But you don't have to use it. You're free to point your computer to another DNS server, such as OpenDNS, just as you can use a third-party email service such as GMail. And if you do that, the settings of Verizon's DNS server won't affect you at all. It's definitely fair to criticize Verizon for failing to follow the DNS specification, but calling it a network neutrality issue is a bit of a red herring.
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