Inside AAISP the ISP taking on Virgin Media and BT with straight-talking charm
Dealing with the big boys and Big Brother
However, Kennard admits the company’s relationship with BT doesn’t run entirely smoothly. In fact, one member of his 20-strong staff is now devoted entirely to dealing with disputes with the wholesale providers, BT and TalkTalk. AAISP buys broadband connections from both companies, but Kennard claims both “try and pretend” that they’re selling AAISP a line rather than an actual broadband connection, and when a broadband develops they make AAISP pay for the engineer visits. “That’s always a challenge and there’s always a large amount of disputed bills because of it,” he said. “At the moment, what works is not paying these bills and threatening to sue them if they don’t pay them. But it does mean we’ve got a guy who spends at least half his time dealing with billing disputes. It’s crazy we have to employ someone to do this.”
And, unlike the big boys, who have close links to government (TalkTalk chief executive Dido Harding is married to a Conservative MP; BT had former cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt on its board until 2014 and its former CEO Ian Livingston is a Conservative peer), Kennard isn’t afraid to poke a stick at the establishment.
This isn’t limited to the aforementioned homepage carrying an anti-surveillance banner: the company is also part-funding a project, with the Open Rights Group, which highlights when “legitimate” sites are blocked by the big ISPs’ content filters. Kennard once even had his own blog (revk.uk) added to TalkTalk’s blacklists. AAISP is currently small enough to fly under the government’s radar, with no legal requirement to offer any filtering on its network, and Kennard is very keen that it remains that way.
“It’s technically a pain in the arse,” he said. “It’s morally questionable and most filtering is ineffective. You can just go to a VPN or through a proxy, or lots of other ways to bypass filters. The Pirate Bay filtering, which applies filters to one website, is totally ineffective. Yet the government is trying to filter a legal and well-funded industry like porn, which is crazy. It has more negative side effects of trying to put this technology in place than it does benefits,” he said, adding: “A lot of us think there are ulterior motives. They’re already talking about extending it [filtering] to cover extremist websites. How long before extremist just means the wrong political party?”
Equally “crazy”, according to Kennard, are David Cameron’s attempts to subvert encryption, against which the company is also protesting. In fact, Kennard has little faith in the technical ability of the government and security forces, and makes a point of highlighting that on the rare occasions his company is forced to hand over details of its customers to the police. “If ever they ask for the ‘user details’, we say ‘sorry, we haven’t got the means of knowing who the user is’,” he said. “If they ask for the subscriber, we stress this doesn’t necessarily have to be the user or even someone in the premises. They could be running a TOR exit node, they could be running a VPN, they could have a virus. This is in no way an indication of who the user is.”
Is Kennard worried that by taking such a libertarian (some might say awkward) stance, his ISP could become a magnet for those up to no good? “If someone was into something dodgy, whether it was paedophiles, terrorists or whatever, there is no reason for those people to come to us,” he argued. “They can just use TOR or other encryption services, over any ISP, and access whatever they need. There’s no reason for them to come to us because the filtering and monitoring of other ISPs is completely ineffective.”
And with that, the straightest-talking broadband provider we’ve come across was off to continue giving the government a hard time. And his builders.