ISPs: We're limiting our own Usenet groups, not blocking others

New York state attorney general said he successfully pressured ISPs to limit the Usenet newsgroups they would offer. That doesn't mean they're blocking access to third-party services.

An announcement this week by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that three Internet service providers would "block" sources of child porn has caused a surprising amount of confusion.

First, some news reports assumed that meant blocking, say, overseas Web sites that are deemed illegal. But Cuomo's press release talked only of broadband providers agreeing to "purge their servers of child porn websites"--which they've done for years, making this point mere public relations puffery.

Second, some readers thought that the three companies involved in the deal--Verizon Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint--would block access to Usenet newsgroups hosted elsewhere. That would include blocking pay-per-Usenet services like Supernews, Giganews, and Usenet.com.

As far as I know, that's not the case, and it's worth setting the record straight. What's happening, as we reported on Tuesday, is that the three companies are changing policies about what newsgroups they offer to their customers through their own Usenet servers:

Time Warner Cable will cease to offer Usenet. Sprint is cutting off the alt.* hierarchy, Usenet's largest, which will primarily affect its business customers. A Verizon spokesman said he didn't know details, saying "newsgroups that deal with scientific endeavors" will stick around but admitted that all of the alt.* hierarchy could be toast.

In the future, perhaps, a constitutionally impaired, censor-happy New York attorney general could try to force these companies to block access to Usenet completely (ports 433 and 119, for instance). Or only connections to attorney-general-certified-free-of-alt-groups Usenet servers might be permitted.

But that's not the case today. Let's hope this puts to rest misunderstandings like this reddit.com thread that talked about broadband providers blocking access to Usenet servers elsewhere. For now, at least, that's not happening.

[Update 6/12 11:40 a.m. Verizon has offered more details on what newsgroups will be removed.]

 

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