Usenet may block Excite@Home users

Excite@Home is hoping for a pardon from a proposed "death penalty" that could prevent its 1 million high-speed users from posting Usenet messages.

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Excite@Home is hoping for a pardon from a proposed Internet newsgroup "death penalty" that could prevent its 1 million high-speed users from posting Usenet messages.

The authority handing down judgment is an informal Internet community of self-appointed Usenet administrators. The group, which oversees the bulletin board-like computer system containing messages on specific topics, is prepared to begin blocking new messages originating from Excite@Home domain names Tuesday.

Excessive "spam," industry jargon for unsolicited email or newsgroup postings intended to sell products or services, has made the sanction necessary, administrators and anti-spam advocates said.

"It's another example of how fed up people are about Internet abuse," said John Mozena, a spokesman at anti-spam advocacy group the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE). "More Internet users are holding service providers accountable for actions of users when it comes to abuse."

The move, if imposed, would be an embarrassment for Excite@Home and is likely to infuriate a significant portion of the company's more than 1 million cable modem users who pay about $40 per month for access to the Internet, email and related services such as Usenet.

Excite@Home estimates that roughly 10 percent of its customers use Usenet.

Last night, Excite@Home asked for an extension, which executives expect will be granted as a result of new efforts to curb Usenet spam generated from @Home's service.

Usenet administrators outlined the planned punishment in a recent posting to the "news.admin.net-abuse.usenet" newsgroup.

"Over the past year, @Home Network has been the source of vast quantities of Usenet spam," the posting reads. "Despite countless complaints, reports and phone calls, @Home Network shows no inclination towards stopping this ongoing abuse. By December 1999, the situation reached unconscionable levels of abuse."

Because of continuing problems, Usenet administrators have proposed blocking all Excite@Home messages by imposing a so-called death penalty.

"Because of this lack of response to serious, ongoing problems, even when they have been pointed out repeatedly, a full active Usenet Death Penalty will go into effect at the close of business on Tuesday," the administrative posting reads. "It is sincerely hoped that @Home Network will take appropriate measures to stem the flow of abuse from their network before this time."

But Excite@Home said the unwanted messages are the result of spammers who, taking advantage of @Home users' mis-configured proxy software, are commandeering their accounts to send spam. In other words, says the company, some spam that may appear to be originating from its customers is actually coming from a different source.

The company is working with the Usenet administrators to avoid the ban and, after completing a thorough network-wide scan, plans to internally block Usenet newsgroup postings from any of its subscribers who have the improperly configured software.

"Excite@Home is very committed to participating respectfully on the Internet, and we have taken previous requests for action seriously," states a letter from Excite@Home posted to the newsgroup last night.

"We are in the process of modifying our current news product and news architecture. We are also implementing more user education," the company wrote. Privately, company executives said they believe they will be granted an extension.

Usenet spam has been a hot topic for years.

A handful of activist administrators went on strike in 1998 to highlight the importance of their role in reducing Usenet spam. Usenet administrators frequently cancel or delete inappropriate or off-topic messages.

Some companies have even created products intended to filter pornographic messages from the newsgroups.

CNET News.com's Jim Hu contributed to this report.