ISP Issues Bizarre Warning to Customers Engaged in Piracy

John Lister's picture

An Internet provider has warned customers that "pirating online content could affect thermostats and security cameras." But the explanation is something of a stretch.

The warning comes from Armstrong Zoom, an Internet Provider that serves several states from Ohio over to the Washington DC area. It's written to customers whose connections have reportedly been used to infringe copyright.

The letter says customers won't face immediate action but will face sanctions for repeat offenses. That's similar of an industry-wide effort that tried to cut down on piracy (including a 'six strike' policy before users are disconnected completely), though it never really took off.

'Pirates' Slowed Down

According to the letter, the next step would be to have customers Internet speeds reduced to the lowest service level, though it's unclear if this would be accompanied by a price cut or the option to end any contract. (Source:

Normally the main threat of such a slowdown is to make it difficult to stream video or download large files without great frustration. However, Zoom takes a fresh angle, saying "Please be advised this may affect other services which you may have connected to your Internet service, such as the ability to control your thermostat remotely or video monitoring services." (Source:

Dramatic as that sounds, the statement comes with some major caveats. For example, there's no suggestion that the home devices themselves would stop working. Any sanction would have no direct effect on the gadgets themselves.

Instead, Zoom is arguing that the slow connection might make it harder to use remote control services such as being able to turn on heating from a phone or computer when (for example) you unexpectedly head home from work early so that the house is warm upon arrival.

Warning Likely Overblown

However, even this claim is doubtful. Remotely controlling a device over the Internet only uses a tiny amount of data as it's simply sending an instruction, so it's hard to see how even a slow home connection could be significantly affected.

The only serious effect might be on remotely accessing live or recorded footage from an Internet-connected home security video. In this case it would be the home upload speeds that might be the problem, though when users are pirating movies (for example), this is done by downloading content from the Internet Service Provider.

That makes the letter particularly baffling as whether or not the service really is affected, as it does seem to be opening the company up to legal claims if somebody was to say (reasonably or otherwise) that they were unable to see the footage and suffered a security problem as a result.

What's Your Opinion?

Is the company being sensible by sending a letter such as this? Should Internet providers slow speeds of people accused of piracy anyway? Or should any legal action be left to copyright holders?

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Dennis Faas's picture

The statement that "pirating online content could affect thermostats and security cameras" is completely ridiculous.

If the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is 100% sure that users are engaged in piracy then they should be able to take action on a specific connection (example: a torrent port / program) without affecting the rest of the Internet speeds. Other ISPs block certain ports to prevent piracy in the first place - the same policy could easily be modified to throttle connections on certain ports without affecting the rest of the service. That said, getting around this issue is easy enough - one could use an encrypted connection on a port or use a VPN and the Internet Provider would not be able to make heads or tails of the connection.

Even so, the ISP does not need to throttle upload speeds. Uploading has nothing to do with "torrenting" in which the majority of traffic is in the opposite direction (download only). As such, having video uploaded from the home to another location (presumably on another account or using another ISP) should have nothing to do with the issue. The only way I see this being a problem is if the user is paying for Internet access at home which also includes cellular or mobile Internet. In this case, the user would be using the same account to upload content from the home, while downloading it in another location. Even so, the ISP should be able to determine whether or not the connection is remote and not throttle it.

shawn.patrick.roberts_4098's picture

The first article I read about this stated that the company's lowest service tier is dial up. Maybe that's why they state the possible service issues?

crackberrymeister_3399's picture

I live in a community serviced by Armstrong and in my area the slowest speed they offer on their Zoom Internet is 4 MB down and 1 MB up. I don't think slowing to this level would be a travesty, but if you were coming down from their top tier of 1000MB down you would feel like dial up. 8-)

I: no longer use their service so I didn't get the letter and can't speak directly to the issue.