I was stunned today to read this report by Martin Bosworth at Consumeraffiars.com on how Verizon is delivering up custom search results pages to fiber-optic users  when they misspell domain names. Since I started working from home here in the Dallas area this Spring, I’d upgraded to Verizon’s FiOS service, so this change would affect me directly. Indeed, after a moment’s worth of testing, I see that I am being sent to a Verizon search results page when I type in a domain name that doesn’t exist:
It’s not all that surprising that Verizon might do this, since they oppose net neutrality, but for users like myself, this is highly undesirable. I’ve been highly complimentary about Verizon’s FiOS service, because I’ve had excellent speed and high quality from it. I work from home providing expertise around internet technologies, so it’s vital that I be able to clearly experience the internet just as the majority of the rest of internet users out there, so having Verizon meddling with what’s delivered up to me is not cool.
If you all recall, another company did something quite similar to this back in 2003: Verisign previously did something quite similar when they abruptly launched their “Site Finder” service which intercepted all queries to mistyped/nonexistent .COM and .NET domain names and redirected users to a similar sort of search results page that they controlled. Verisign’s action was heavily criticized for interfering with many systems’ processes which expect incorrect domain requests to error out, and VeriSign agreed to suspend the service  after ICANN pressured them to halt it.
Now, Verizon’s action isn’t quite as serious, but it’s the very same sort of thing, and while it doesn’t impact the entire internet, it does impact a great many of us who work from home or do hobby programming of various sorts. It’s a bit too little, too late to point out that users can opt out of this , too.
Now, I have my IE browser configged such that it uses a particular service when auto-correcting for this sort of thing, but I don’t have this set up in FireFox, and in that browser I’m getting that Verizon page.
Verizon is making money off of ads delivered on that search results page, so this was intentionally done to their already-paying subscribers in order to increase profits. Unfortunately, a great many of us do not want this sort of “assistance” when browsing the internet, and we get irritable when companies are aggressively inserting themselves between us and the normal process of interacting with the internet.
By the way – for one mistyped domain I did, it appeared that InfoSpace was powering the search results. For another, it was Yahoo! powering the search. I’d suggest that neither of those companies should associate themselves with this sort of business. InfoSpace results:
Verizon: not cool! I shouldn’t have to go in and opt-out of this sort of thing, and you should’ve notified me in advance before interfering with my internet access. Are you using the same software that the Chinese goverment uses to control their citizen’s internet access?
Verizon has tried to fight off net neutrality through propaganda, issuing statements like that of Peter Davidson, Verizon’s senior vice president for federal government relations:
“…Net Neutrality – better named Net Regulation – is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist…”
Um…. they’re just not convincing me with stuff like what they’ve done in this example.