If you want information about the White House, you can access the site www.whitehouse.gov. But if you instead use the common Internet address ending .com, and access www.whitehouse.com, you end up at a pornography site.
The Internet can be an amazing tool for quickly referencing useful information and advice on a huge number of topics. But each day more than 100 pornographic sites are added to the Internet.
“The Internet is like fire,” says Carroll Blackledge, president of Integrity Online in Jackson. “You can cook with it. Or you can burn something down. It is a tool. It is like gun control. You can protect yourself with a gun like a police officer, or you can use a gun to kill someone. The Internet is a beneficial tool when in the hands of the right folks. But in the hands of wrong folks, it is very destructive.”
Blackledge said many people don’t grasp that there are no controls over the Internet; it is completely uncontrolled and unregulated.
“If the mind can conceive it, it can be put on the Internet,” Blackledge said. “That opens us up to a whole lot of possibilities”
Integrity Online and Safernet Inc. in Clinton are Internet service providers (ISPs) in Mississippi that provide filtering that blocks sites that are violent, pornographic, or otherwise objectionable. Both companies have been in business less than a year, and are providing ISP services at rates comparable to or not much higher than non-filtered access.
The companies say the number of customers interested in filtering services is increasing rapidly. Businesses that want to prevent loss of productivity, and the potential liability from not restricting access by employees to inappropriate sites, are among the new customers.
Don McNeely, director of sales and marketing at Safernet, said response has been good since the company started offering services in March. McNeely said with 100 new pornographic sites coming online each day, there is a continual need to update filtering services. That’s why software that blocks pornographic sites isn’t as useful as ISP filtering. Software can also unintentionally block useful sites dealing, for example, with women’s reproductive health issues.
Good sites added to the Internet each day average 3,500 to 4,000, far eclipsing the bad sites. Still, the large number of sites available means that it is getting easier and easier to unintentionally access sites that are hate-based, violent, pornographic or just plain distasteful.
“You don’t have to have much knowledge to find bad sites on the Web,” McNeely said. “They make it so easy to access. That’s the slyness of these organizations that are trying to make it as easy as possible to access pornography. So much of it is free that you get to see before you get into a pay situation.”
McNeely said parents form the majority of his client base. Another growing market is churches and their members. Libraries wrestling with the dilemma of providing valuable tools on the Internet without allowing children access to unsuitable sites are also likely customers.
McNeely said his company is also getting ready to market its service to businesses because there is documentation that there is a significant loss of productivity from employees accessing pornographic sites at work. He said sexual harassment in the work place is a big issue, and the stimulation that occurs from a worker visiting a pornographic site can influence that person to make inappropriate remarks or physical contact with other employees.
“That can lead to big liability,” McNeely said. “With the filtering service, employees still have access to the full positive tools of the Internet without having these objectionable sites available.”
Blackledge predicts that if the Internet keeps moving in the same direction, filtered access will become the norm and unfiltered access will become the exception. A study of 110 major U.S. corporations found that two-thirds had hits on pornographic Web sites on company computers during working hours. Some companies have instituted Web monitoring because of that, and penalize employees who are caught using the Internet improperly or even just for personal use during business hours.
But company Web monitoring ties up the personnel resources, and can make employees feel like they aren’t trusted and are being spied upon. Blackledge said a cheaper, better alternative is filtered access.
Although some people scorn “Web nanny” services for adults, Blackledge said some of his customers are adults who subscribed after becoming addicted to Internet pornography.
“Addiction to pornography is happening in huge numbers, but no one wants to spend a lot of time talking about it,” Blackledge.
Blackledge said customers who have admitted being addicted to Internet porn said they started out looking at soft core pornography, enjoyed it, went on to more hard core material, and gradually became desensitized. He stresses that Integrity Online, which is a national franchise company, is a full-service ISP, providing business connections and the same kinds of services as provided by other ISPs.
“We offer the same kind of connectivity, plus filtering,” he said. “And we do it at a very competitive price. In some cases we save people money by giving them more.”
Prices for non-filtered services in Mississippi average $14.95 per month and up. Safernet charges $23.95 per month for unlimited usage, which compares to $21.95 for unlimited usage with America Online (AOL). Integrity Online charges $21.95 per month for unlimited access. Other ISPs in Mississippi contacted for this article said that while they aren’t offering filtering services at the present time, those services are likely to be offered in the near future.
The company also has a policy of not making their customer database available to anyone. Some ISPs sell customer’s e-mail addresses, and then customers receive a lot of junk e-mail.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.