Back in 1996, when residents of Blountsville, Ala., requested Internet service from the town's phone company, Blountsville Telephone Company CEO Rick Kiser hesitated. It wasn't about business. It was about religion and morality.
''I have spiritual and non-sectarian feelings that pornography is not good for people,'' says Kiser. ''I feel like it's destructive for families.'' The Net provides access to it.
But being the only way the town's 1,800 people could get to the Net without paying long-distance charges to access another provider, Kiser decided to offer a service without porn. He had no idea how tough that would be.
There's nothing illegal about delivering filtered Net access; many providers offer the option. But Kiser didn't want to give users the choice. He felt it was a matter of principle not to profit from pornography.
It turns out, unknown to him, town residents didn't need a choice. The filters weren't working. Kiser learned that last year, after a mother complained that her son was getting to hard-core sites. It took till January to strengthen the
filters; Kiser was pleased.
But townsfolk like Chuck Harmon, a programmer who spends more than 100 hours a month online, were livid when they logged on and found they could hardly get anywhere -- including eBay and other non-porn sites: ''Fifty-five percent to
65% of the Internet is totally gone,'' Harmon says. ''They filter for everything that might be remotely objectionable to a 90-year-old lady. It smacks of censorship.''
Blountsville.net was flooded with angry calls. Many of the 900 customers, it turns out, wanted unfettered access. Kiser responded -- not by pulling off the filters but by pulling the plug. He decided that if he couldn't offer quality
service without pornography, he wouldn't offer it at all. So next month, BTC is getting out of the Net access business entirely.
BTC customers now have another choice -- a new local provider that is busy taking calls from people who want Net access. It'll be unfiltered, says Pete Hays of Urisp.net: ''I talked to some ministers,'' he says. ''One of them told me,
'Pete, God doesn't filter or censor man. You can't do what God doesn't do.' ''
For his part, Kiser says he has heard from some customers as well. They're sorry to see the filters go.