Comcast, NetZero latest providers to bow to Cuomo's Usenet campaign

After New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's threat of legal action, Comcast has agreed to curtail Usenet access. It's still not clear what, if any, newsgroups will be removed.

New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's recent threats of adopting unspecified "legal remedies," potentially including criminal prosecution, against Comcast apparently worked.

Comcast responded this week by saying it signed a memorandum of understanding with Cuomo's office. United Online's NetZero also signed an agreement that deals with Usenet, the pre-Web collection of discussion groups.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is pitching these agreements as a way to reduce the amount of child porn on Usenet. His latest prepared statement: "I commend the companies for working with my office to aggressively eradicate online child pornography and strongly urge all outstanding Internet service providers across New York and the nation to get on board." His Web site even offers a handy "ISP complaint form."

But in reality, Cuomo's pressure tactics have misfired. They led Time Warner Cable to pull the plug on some 100,000 Usenet discussion groups, including such hotbeds of illicit content as talk.politics and misc.activism.progressive. Verizon Communications deleted such unlawful discussion groups as us.military, ny.politics, alt.society.labor-unions, and alt.politics.democrats. AT&T and Time Warner Cable have taken similar steps.

It's not clear what the memorandum of understanding involves, and whether it would be legally enforceable (by either party) and in which circumstances. Complicating matters is that Comcast doesn't actually run its own Usenet servers. It outsources that to a third-party provider based in Austin, Texas, called Giganews, which previously confirmed to us that it had been contacted by Cuomo's office.

Comcast told us the agreement did not involve writing a handsome check to Cuomo, as Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint did. But it still has not answered questions we posed on Tuesday evening about what the agreement means, what will be done differently, and what Usenet newsgroups will be removed.

About the author

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

 

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