It sounds a little different when a city talks about acceptable Internet use

19 June 2013 by Steve Blum
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Unacceptable use.

Opelika, Alabama wants to be the first in the state to add fiber to the home service to its municipal electric utility. It’s set $41 million aside to build an FTTH system and hopes to get to profitability within five years. But it’s also wrestling with a question that often comes up when building municipal broadband projects: to what degree can or should a city control what happens on its network?

The discussion in Opelika centers on an acceptable use policy. AUPs are ubiquitous in the Internet business, and are generally used by ISPs to set limits on what subscribers can do. Vague, broad reaching language is often included, primarily because ISPs want to be able to put a stop to truly outrageous behavior – say, running a high traffic commercial website or spewing spam on a residential DSL line – that’s disruptive without necessarily being illegal. If laws are broken – financial scams, for example – they just call the cops, who (the current NSA scandal notwithstanding) can get what they want with warrants and subpoenas.

But suppose a city with its own police department claims the right to

[M]onitor the services…and disclose information regarding the use of services for any reason if [Opelika Power Services], in its sole discretion, believes that it is reasonable to do so, including to satisfy laws, regulations, or other governmental or legal requirements or requests; to operate the services properly, or to protect itself and its subscribers.

It’s not unreasonable to wonder whether signing up for municipal Internet service on these terms means you’re giving the cops or any other government agency the unlimited right to watch what you do on the web and use that information, perhaps against you. The Opelika city council president says that’s not the intent, but citizen comment fears otherwise. The proposed AUP is still under review by the city council; it’ll be interesting to see how they decide to resolve that uncertainty. Or not.