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Censorship Your Rights Online

Yes Virginia, ISPs Have Silently Blocked Web Sites 204

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
Slashdot contributor Bennett Haselton writes "A recurring theme in editorials about Net Neutrality -- broadly defined as the principle that ISPs may not block or degrade access to sites based on their content or ownership (with exceptions for clearly delineated services like parental controls) -- is that it is a "solution in search of a problem", that ISPs in the free world have never actually blocked legal content on purpose. True, the movement is mostly motivated by statements by some ISPs about what they might do in the future, such as slow down customers' access to sites if the sites haven't paid a fast-lane "toll". But there was also an oft-forgotten episode in 2000 when it was revealed that two backbone providers, AboveNet and TeleGlobe, had been blocking users' access to certain Web sites for over a year -- not due to a configuration error, but by the choice of management within those companies. Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being blocked was mine. But I think this incident is more relevant than ever now -- not just because it shows that prolonged violations of Net Neutrality can happen, but because some of the people who organized or supported AboveNet's Web filtering, are people in fairly influential positions today, including the head of the Internet Systems Consortium, the head of the IRTF's Anti-Spam Research Group, and the operator of Spamhaus. Which begs the question: If they really believe that backbone companies have the right to silently block Web sites, are some of them headed for a rift with Net Neutrality supporters?" Read on for the rest of his story.

In the aforementioned instance, AboveNet and TeleGlobe were not selling "parental filters" or other common types of filtered Internet access; the users being blocked from our Web sites were adults paying for what they thought were unfiltered Internet connections. What had happened was that AboveNet and TeleGlobe signed up to block Web sites on the Realtime Blackhole List, a list which was widely (but inaccurately) thought to be a list of "spammers", put out by a group called the Mail Abuse Prevention System. (MAPS and the RBL still exist, but under new management and in a form that bears little resemblance to their late-90's forerunners.) Most ISPs that used the RBL used it to filter only incoming e-mail, but AboveNet went all-out and blocked users from even viewing RBL'ed web sites, presumably because two of MAPS's founders, Paul Vixie and Dave Rand, were on the AboveNet board of directors. And it turned out that the RBL not only included spammers, but also Web sites that were not sending mail at all but were blocked because of their content -- in our case, our ISP got blocked because some other customers were selling mailing list software that MAPS believed could be too easily abused by spammers.

These two distinctions -- (1) the distinction between blocking incoming e-mail from spammers, versus blocking Web sites; and (2) the distinction between blocking traffic due to spam activity, versus blocking sites because of their content -- both go to the heart of what Net Neutrality is, and isn't, about. Net Neutrality is about user preferences -- not meaning that as a buzzword, but as an actual guiding principle to figure out what is and is not covered by the cause. If an ISP filters incoming mail from known spammers, that generally improves the user experience, and is something many users would expect an ISP to do anyway. But if an ISP blocks users from reaching Web sites (even, for the sake of argument, the Web sites of actual spammers), then that's generally counteracting the user's wishes -- if the user didn't want to go there, they wouldn't have typed it in. (After all, I visit spammers' Web sites all the time, usually right before I sue them.) Similarly, if an ISP blocks traffic from sites because of spam or other network abuse, that serves to protect their own users. But if an ISP blocks users from viewing sites because of their content, that's generally not expected by users, unless they've specifically signed up for something like parental controls. The Snowe Net Neutrality amendment proposed last year recognized both of these distinctions, and stated that nothing in the amendment would be interpreted to prohibit spam filtering, parental control services, or measures to protect network security.

The MAPS incident thus shaped most of my opinions about Net Neutrality 6 years before the debate even had a name. When I first found out in August 2000 that our ISP was blacklisted, like most people I believed that the RBL really was a list of spammers; after all the MAPS web page said that the RBL was a list of networks that "originate or relay spam". So I called my ISP screaming at them for being incompetent spam-enablers (the culmination of many frustrating issues with them), and saying that if they really were letting customers send spam, or running an insecure server that spammers were hijacking, I would leave on principle, if the cretins managing our server didn't drop it in the lake first. The ISP owner then told me what happened: that the ISP was not blacklisted for spamming customers, but because of the content of the other sites. (Buried in the list of RBL criteria on MAPS's site was the statement that sites could be blacklisted for providing "spam software", although the criteria did not define how they distinguished between spam software and regular mailing list software, which is how our ISP got caught in the net. And the criteria did not disclose anywhere the most controversial feature of the RBL, which is that if an ISP didn't comply, MAPS would start blacklisting other unrelated sites at the same ISP to put more pressure on them.) I agreed that this seemed to be absurd, and said I wouldn't leave the ISP if they were being blackballed just because of the content of hosted pages.

I don't know exactly what the mail software in question did or where MAPS thought the line should be drawn, but I am a purist about content -- it's a long-standing principle among the Internet security community that if a tool exists which exploits a security hole, you don't try to make the software disappear, you fix the hole. And besides, since MAPS and their supporters wanted to blackball ISPs that hosted spamming software (however you defined that), but the same people had never advocated blackballing ISPs that hosted network break-in tools and other cracking programs, for example, then what were they really saying? That spamming someone more unethical than breaking into their network?

But by far the most common objection to my complaint about AboveNet blocking Web sites was, "Hey, if a private company blocks things, as long as they're being honest to their users about it, who cares?" Well, true, but the fact that AboveNet blocked Web sites was not widely known even within the company; when I once called AboveNet feigning ignorance and asking them if they blocked RBL'ed Web sites, the technician who spoke to me said, "No, that wouldn't make any sense." (Well, half right.) Their AUP mentioned "protecting users from spam" but said nothing about blocking Web sites. In fact, other than "family-filtered" ISPs and similar services, I've never heard of any company blocking Web sites that actually did try to make their users aware of it. (On the other hand, even if AboveNet had fully disclosed their filtering, they were still a backbone company selling connectivity mainly to ISPs -- and I think if you sell something wholesale that can only be re-sold to the public by fraudulent means, then you're at least partly complicit in that fraud as well.)

If you're tempted to argue that backbone providers should be allowed to block whatever they want as long as they bury it in their AUP (although AboveNet and TeleGlobe didn't even do that much), just consider: When you access Google from your home computer, have you read the AUP of every network that the packets pass through, to check whether they reserve the right to block or even modify your traffic? Without doing a traceroute, could you even name all the networks that the traffic passes through? Do you really want the burden to be on you to check with all of them every time there's a problem reaching a Web site? Or do you feel like there's an understanding that as long as you pay your bill, they should let you go wherever you want?

Some have argued that if an ISP blocks the user from reaching a Web site, then even if the ISP is defrauding the user, that's still strictly an issue between the user and the ISP. But if a user is trying to reach your Web site, the user is trying to give you something of value: their attention, their eyeballs on your advertisements, sometimes even their money (with the expectation that you will provide them with something in return, of course, like some content worth reading). If the ISP steps in and blocks that, then the ISP has taken something of value that the user was attempting to give to you, and diverted it to serve their own interests. To me that doesn't seem ethically much different from the FedEx driver swiping the chocolates that someone tried to send you for Valentine's Day. Is that just between the sender and FedEx? Or do you have a beef because you didn't get the present that was intended for you, and you had to eat last week's chocolates to cheer up?

The modern-day threats to Net Neutrality are different: slowing access to Web sites unless the site owners pay a "toll", instead of blocking access to sites because of the content of other sites hosted at the same ISP. But they both boil down to the same thing: not giving end users what they have already paid for. If a user buys Internet access, they almost always buy it with the understanding that if they access a site, the content will download as quickly as their connection allows.

Thus the most common misconception about Net Neutrality is that the proponents are fighting against "capitalism" -- ISPs just charging more for different delivery speeds. But ISPs are already charging users for those delivery lines -- including different tiers for different prices. That's capitalism, and it works, with prices falling all the time in a fairly competitive market. But charging publishers for those higher delivery speeds to the user's house, is really more like double-billing, because the user has already been charged once for the lines that the content is coming over, so the ISP is trying to charge the content publisher again for the same service. Of course, if you charge party A for doing X, and then you try to charge party B for the same instance of doing X, and party B doesn't pay up so you don't do X, you're also breaking your deal with A. Brad Templeton of the EFF stated as much on his blog in 2006:

The pipes start off belonging to the ISPs but they sell them to their customers. The customers are buying their line to the middle, where they meet the line from the other user or site they want to talk to. The problem is generated because the carriers all price the lines at lower than they might have to charge if they were all fully saturated, since most users only make limited, partial use of the lines. When new apps increase the amount a typical user needs, it alters the economics of the ISP. They could deal with that by raising prices and really delivering the service they only pretend to sell, or by charging the other end, and breaking the cost contract. They've rattled sabres about doing the latter.
And I think the same is clearly true if, instead of trying to extract money from the content publisher, the ISP tries to extract something else, like an agreement to shut down certain Web sites before the ISP will let their users view other sites hosted at the same company. You can talk all day about how evil those Web sites are, but the ISP has already sold the user a connection with the implied ability to access them.

Anyway, this all came out in 2000 when a Slashdot article revealed that AboveNet had been blocking Web sites, and AboveNet stopped doing it two hours after the article came out. (TeleGlobe stuck with it for a few more months.) But from the hostility of the reaction, you'd think that we had published cartoons in a Danish newspaper showing Paul Vixie with a bomb in his turban. I got more e-mails than I could count arguing that AboveNet had the right to block whatever Web sites they felt like, regardless of whether the end users knew it was happening. To those people, I'd be sincerely interested in their answer to this question: Does that mean they've have no problem if they found out their ISP was silently blocking sites for political reasons? There is a clear line between following user preferences by blocking spam, and countermanding user preferences by blocking sites because of their content -- and once you've crossed that line, where's the logical stopping point? Seriously, I would have liked to have known how they would answer that, if I could have gotten any meaningful dialog going with them, which most of the time I couldn't. At the time, I'd just spent four years telling people that kids looking at porn was a non-issue, and that by the way if their kids came to my Web site I'd even help them get around their blocking software, and I still got more angry e-mails for disclosing the fact that AboveNet blocked Web sites based on their content, than I'd gotten in all the previous four years combined. (A few even accused us of moving into a blacklisted address block on purpose. This was because the actual move happened after the blacklisting was in place, even though I told them all that our ISP had announced the coming move two months before -- repeat, before -- they ever heard from MAPS. Some people were so in love with that "smoking gun" that they didn't believe me; that's their prerogative. But don't take my word for it -- when one supporter wrote to MAPS to ask about un-blocking our site, MAPS officer Kelly Thompson replied:

>Would it be possible to
>selectively unblock peacefire.org (209.211.253.169)?
Technically? Yes, it is. It's a violation of our policy, though, so I can't do so.

I would be willing to help you find other free or reduced cost hosting, however.

It was MAPS's decision, not ours or our ISP's, to have our site blocked. That should settle that once and for all, just as soon as there is peace in the Middle East and a black lesbian in the White House.)

But what do all these people think about Net Neutrality, 6 years later? I tried to track down the influential people who had spoken out supporting AboveNet's blocking of Web sites, or at least their right to block Web sites. My position was, we can agree to disagree on that, but if they really feel that way, why haven't they been speaking out against Net Neutrality? The proposed Snowe amendment was pretty clear:

SEC. 12. INTERNET NEUTRALITY
(a) Duty of Broadband Service Providers- With respect to any broadband service offered to the public, each broadband service provider shall--
(1) not block, interfere with, discriminate against, impair, or degrade the ability of any person to use a broadband service to access, use, send, post, receive, or offer any lawful content, application, or service made available via the Internet.

John Levine, webmaster of Abuse.Net, head of the IRTF's Anti-Spam Research Group, and one of the most vocal critics of Peacefire's campaign against AboveNet's Web filtering, said that he would have opposed the bill but didn't bother because it didn't have much chance of passing. Well, it didn't, but the bill was significant not because of its likelihood of passage, but because it articulated the principles that the Net Neutrality coalition had rallied around, and with the momentum behind the movement, it's likely to achieve at least some of its goals, by legislation or otherwise.

Paul Vixie, Dave Rand, and Steve Linford did not respond to requests for comment on Net Neutrality. But Paul Vixie wrote something very interesting in a May 2006 blog post:

Second, there's network neutrality. In telephone service, the government mandates that all companies providing voice-grade telephony interconnect with eachother at preset rates, thus ensuring that any phone can call any other phone and that new phone companies can enter the field to help ensure competition. In Internet service, the government mandates nothing. Recently SBC (I mean AT&T, I think, is it Wednesday?) rattled its sabre and said that Google and other content supplying companies should be paying for the use of SBC's backbone to reach SBC's eyeballs. Most of us said, uh, what? "Aren't SBC's own customers paying SBC to carry that traffic?" Some of us even said "I am not an eyeball, I am a person!" But anyway, from time to time these Internet companies shut down interconnects in hopes of creating new cash flows among eachother, and until the government regulates this, we're all at risk of higher prices or lower service with zero notice. Some well meaning democrats are trying to challenge this with "network neutrality" legislation, but this probably isn't their year. Or their decade.

San Francisco has a government, though. And if San Francisco owned and operated its own wireless Internet plant, we could mandate that any Internet company wishing to do business in this city interconnect at fair and reasonable cost to all other Internet companies wishing to do business in this city.

"Until the government regulates this"? "Government mandates"? "Fair and reasonable cost"? Quick, call the anti-socialist intervention squad! How long does it take those San Francisco hippies to suck the new arrivals' brains out anyway? Of course, I agree with everything he said. It's just that if you replace "create new cash flows" with "try to get ISPs to remove content from their servers", this describes exactly what Vixie and AboveNet were doing a few years earlier. He's a smart guy, and I'm sure this didn't escape his sense of irony, so perhaps this confirms something I'd suspected all along, which is that Vixie understood the subtleties of the issue better than most of his cheerleaders, and may be having second thoughts about AboveNet's Web-blocking misadventure. From the beginning, in a 1997 interview with Sun World, he sounded like someone trying to at least keep an open mind:

Concentration of power into a single individual: It's very true that power has corrupted every individual in whom it has ever been concentrated in the history of mankind. I do not feel that I am necessarily above whatever elements of human nature give rise to that. I worry about it. Probably other people worry about it more than I do.
Although, he didn't get to making any such frank statements during the controversy over AboveNet's Web site blocking. (Perhaps MAPS's lawyers were worried that he was a little too unfiltered and advised him not to comment; at the time, the MAPS Web site had a "How to sue MAPS" link on the front page.)

Speaking of which, Anne Mitchell, Director of Legal and Public Affairs for MAPS during the time when AboveNet was blocking Web sites, was the only MAPS adherent from the era that I could find who has since clearly and publicly come out against Net Neutrality. In May 2006 she wrote:

Here's the thing that the 3Ns (Net Neutrality Nuts) don't get: bandwidth costs money. And if you can't charge those who use the majority of it accordingly, then you are going to have to amortize it across everybody.

So, if a net neutrality law passes, don't be surprised when your costs to have an Internet account skyrocket.

Because somebody has to pay those bills, and if the law says that the ISPs can't charge the big guys - the big users - differently, it means that they have to charge them the same rate that they charge everyone else. And that means not that their rate will go down, but that everybody else's rate will go up.
And then again in February 2007 in another blog post titled "Towards A Nanny Internet", she wrote, "Network neutrality is the idea that ISPs should be forced to charge everybody the same for their Internet use", grouping it together with proposed anti-bullying and anti-anonymity laws.

Well, points to Anne for being consistent, and for publicly declaring her views in no uncertain terms, which is all I'm asking of the other supporters of AboveNet's website blocking policy. (Although she's coming at it from a different angle this time, "How do we work out who pays for the traffic" rather than "ISPs should be allowed to block whatever they want without telling anybody".) But this is also a textbook example of what I think are the three major fallacies of opposition to Net Neutrality:

First, lumping it together with other examples of unpopular regulation and calling it one more example of Big Government -- an argument also tried in other editorials ("Politicians and public figures alike should realize the absurdity of advocating more red tape to keep the Internet free"). This meme has never really caught on, possibly because groups like the ACLU and the EFF that have traditionally opposed true Internet censorship, have lined up in favor of Net Neutrality. All the proposed "red tape" and "regulation" really says is that if a user attempts to access a Web site over a connection that they've paid for, the ISP may not block or slow down their access, a law which most people would hardly consider tyrannical.

Second, asserting that "Network neutrality is the idea that ISPs should be forced to charge everybody the same for their Internet use." I've never actually heard anyone advocate anything close to that, but a common question among skeptics is why different "tiers" for Internet traffic are really any different from different-tiered pricing for dial-up vs. DSL, or for different levels of Web hosting. The difference is that when users and Web site owners pay for those connections, they are paying for their respective connections to the rest of the Internet. But an ISP charging a Web site owner to carry their traffic the last mile to the user's house, is not charging for a product or service, but really charging a fee not to break a service that they've already agreed to provide to the user.

Which leads to the third misconception: "Here's the thing that the 3Ns (Net Neutrality Nuts) don't get: bandwidth costs money... So, if a net neutrality law passes, don't be surprised when your costs to have an Internet account skyrocket." But it's not about how much a service costs, but about the ethics of double-billing for it. We know that ISP pricing models can already support the total traffic that people consume today, and ISPs do already follow net neutrality principles most of the time, so nobody's costs will "skyrocket" just because a neutrality law passes. If vastly more people start trying to stream CNN over the Internet 24/7, and fully using the services that ISPs have "only been pretending to sell" as Brad Templeton put it, then ISPs may have to charge more for users who consume too much bandwidth, encouraging people to stay at today's average levels by rationing themselves and perhaps watching 24 on their $5,000 TV sets sometimes instead of downloading it off of BitTorrent to their laptop every week because it makes them feel like a haX0r. Much as we all love our unmetered connections, it wouldn't be a violation of Net Neutrality for ISPs to charge users for bandwidth hogging, to keep everyone from going too far above today's levels. What ISPs should not do is charge users for implied full-throttle connections, and then turn around to charge publishers for moving bits over those same lines, or block the connection for any other reason.

So, yes, Virginia, blocking of Web sites does happen -- and by "Virginia", I mean FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, who said in a speech in August 2006: "I have to say, thus far, proponents of net neutrality regulation have not come to us to explain where the market is failing or what anticompetitive conduct we should challenge; we are open to hearing from them." This was echoed in an editorial later that month from Sonia Arrison of the Pacific Research Institute:

Internet service providers have voluntarily upheld content-neutral practices without the need for government intervention, and consumers would never stand for blocked Web sites... If the loss of net neutrality principles was really a problem, advocates wouldn't need to scare Americans in order to win their support. Using government regulation preemptively to shortchange business partners is a reckless abuse of the public policy process. New laws should be based on facts and reality, not fear and hypothetical situations.
I guess both of those ladies' ISPs must be blocking access to the SaveTheInternet.com Web site, so I e-mailed both of them the coalition's list of examples, and added a note about the AboveNet/TeleGlobe incident as well. No personal response from either of them yet, but I'm sure they just got lost in the shuffle while they were so busy sending out corrections. (On the other hand, I did get a courteous response from Randolph J. May of the Free State Foundation, when I wrote to him about an editorial he penned which also argued that violations have not happened: "It is generally agreed that except for a few isolated and quickly remedied incidents, neither the cable operators nor the telephone companies providing broadband Internet services have blocked, impaired or otherwise restricted subscriber access to the content of unaffiliated entities." He said he hadn't known about the AboveNet/TeleGlobe incident either.)

Another theme in some anti-Net-Neutrality editorials is that existing laws are enough to deal with the problem. In Majoras's speech, she said, "We should not forget that we already have in place an existing law enforcement and regulatory structure." Arrison's echoed that "Numerous federal agencies already have set a basic legal framework in place to preserve fair competition and business practices on the Internet". Well, as Yogi Berra says, in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice, there is. After I found out AboveNet and TeleGlobe were blocking my Web site, I called about twenty lawyers in the Bellevue phone book, figuring: I wasn't greedy, but surely there would be financial damages for deceiving users and blocking our site, enough to pay a lawyer in return for handling the case? I think about two lawyers called me back, and they both said that even though what the backbone companies were doing clearly looked like fraud, it would take tens of thousands of dollars just to get started, and even if we ever got to court, the judge could call it however they wanted. Whatever laws exist now, they may help the slightly smaller big guy against the bigger big guy, but are not much use to the little or medium-sized guy.

So, any informed debate about Net Neutrality has to include the fact that, yes, some providers have blocked Web sites on purpose, for long periods of time, and no, the free market didn't fix it by itself. Even if something on that scale never happens again, if the free market and the anti-trust laws didn't automatically correct a case where Web sites were being blocked outright, then it's wishful thinking to think that those forces will prevent ISPs from merely slowing down Web access to sites that haven't paid a "toll", as they have made noises about doing. One AboveNet customer, Sam Knutson, said when he found out about the Web site blocking, "This type of behavior on the part of an ISP is reprehensible. I pay for a pipe and don't expect this type of monkey business." Well, I agree that it's reprehensible; whether we should "expect" more of it or not, depends on how much the Net Neutrality movement achieves its goals.

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Yes Virginia, ISPs Have Silently Blocked Web Sites

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:02PM (#18429789)
    Slightly worryingly, the first time I clicked on the link to this story, I got a blank Slashdot page with the message

    Nothing to see here. Please move along.
  • And thus be liable to be sued for _any_ content they carry.
    • Did I sense just a tad bit of Irony there? :)

      Protected free speech is going the way of the goony bird... for years and years, I've been saying that the Internet would continue to protect that free speech and media, but it looks like even that is going away. :(

      Orwell only scratched the surface, methinks.
      • by rucs_hack (784150)
        Has there ever been a time when total free speech has existed in America? I am thinking of all members of the population here, not just the whites.

        The thought occurs that it has not ever covered the entire population, just bits of it.
    • by ajs (35943) <<moc.sja> <ta> <sja>> on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:29PM (#18430163) Homepage Journal
      Here's the problem: this article is misleading enough that it doesn't do justice to that point AT ALL. The article SEEMS to be about Net neutrality, but is instead a piece that essentially covers the history of RBLs, which have moved from a model of maximum-pain to a model of maximum-gain. That is, they've moved away from trying to cause pain to large blocks of the Net (which turns away users of the service, and defeats the point), to a model such as Spamhaus's where sites are filtered based on a) being a spam source b) being identified as a highly probable spam source (e.g. zombied PCs, open proxies, etc.) or c) being identified as a service which chronically abuses spamming as a marketing technique (e.g. servers whose Web services are commonly and often exclusively advertised in spam).

      The attempt to conflate filtering traffic based on a desire for increased revenue and filtering traffic as a direct result of abuse is absurd. One is a valuable service to the customer. One is a self-serving abuse of the customer.
      • I don't agree with your allegation. The article is certainly long, and it covers a lot of points, but it is distinctly about Net Neutrality except where it gets distracted condemning the people behind MAPS. Here is an executive summary. Most of it is direct quotations, but I did a little editing for clarity and conciseness.

        This issue started with the Realtime Blackhole List (RBL), a blacklist for spammers, which was started by a group called the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS).

        Most ISPs using the RBL

      • by Skreems (598317) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:58PM (#18430689) Homepage
        This is absolutely false. Blocking spam from compromised domains, absolutely. I agree with you 100% that blocking those emails is a service to the consumer, and so does the author. But blocking the user from navigating to a website in that IP block, an action which they have explicitly initiated, is another thing entirely. The ISP is selling the user a service (we will connect your browser to the internet), and then breaking it without even telling the user. The motive behind double billing is slightly different, but the execution is the same: sell the user a service, and then break the service you've promised. Only in the new case, they're trying to extort money from 3rd parties in exchange for un-breaking the service again.
        • by ajs (35943)

          This is absolutely false. Blocking spam from compromised domains, absolutely. I agree with you 100% that blocking those emails is a service to the consumer, and so does the author.

          Yes, but that's not what I was talking about. He's essentially taken a mental snapshot of spam-fighting techniques, and has decided that anyone who did anything he didn't like is fundamentally wrong on any related issue, going forward. He's free to think that, but this is not an article about net neutrality, it's an article about his historical spam-blocking pet peeves and how they RELATE to some individuals who currently have a net neutrality opinion.

    • by Secrity (742221) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:56PM (#18430653)
      ISPs do NOT not have Common Carrier status -- and don't want it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dosquatch (924618)

        True, ISPs do not have CC status. That status carries with it certain obligations that would be... let's say "inconvenient"... for the providers to meet, like universal coverage. Even in cases where the ISP is also a phone company (DSL providers), the ISP side of the house is a separate business unit.

        The other side of this story, though, is that for those obligations, a common carrier is afforded some really desirable perks, like guaranteed right-of-way.

        The problem is that in these "hybrid" companies, the

      • by snowwrestler (896305) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @05:42PM (#18435171)
        Due to legacy regulation held over from analog telephony/cable days.

        Cable ISPs do not, thanks to a recent decision by the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That is the whole basis of this fight right now. The telephony guys want Congress to strip their offerings of common carrier status so they can compete with the cable guys. But that would also strip all the protections we've come to take for granted about the Internet, like not blocking Web sites based on political speech, etc.

        All the existing regulatory structure will be completely useless if that happens, because it's all based on statutory authority. A new law from Congress overrides existing laws and existing regulatory power. If the new law says that ISPs are not common carrier, then they are essentially private networks and are free to limit their traffic however they see fit--and the FCC would have nothing to say about it. When it comes to threats from Congress, FCC assurances are not worth the paper they're printed on.

        It is a real danger and just because it's "hard to imagine" doesn't mean we should ignore it.
    • ISPs are not and never have been "common carriers". Common carriers may be ISPs, but not always.
  • Where the candidate in the 2000 election was infavor of blocking software until they found out it blocked _their_ site.

    Are they just stupid or what?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:21PM (#18430071)
      Thanks for using the correct tense, "blocked". Unlike a certain headline, which seems to inidicate that RIGHT NOW some ISPs in Virginia are ACTIVELY BLOCKING certain websites.

      This is a -followup- to news for nerds from SIX YEARS AGO. It is a very relevant tie-in to the Net Neutrality debate, and therefore stuff that matters.

      To lampoon two bad Slashtrends at once: Is this kind of sensational headline really necessary?
    • People believe all sorts of stupid things, but most people will learn from their mistakes once it starts hurting them. For instance, blocking software that prevents kids from accessing drug sites, hate sites, and sex sites is good, right?

      For people who don't understand technology, it's not obvious that it's hard (for software) to tell the difference between a sex chat site and a breast cancer awareness site, a drug-awareness site and a drug dealer's site, and the KKK's speech with a history of the civi
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rthille (8526)
        Silly me, I sort of figured that one should educate themselves on a subject _before_ they take a stance on it.
      • It was funny when "drug site" blocking software blocked the DEA's site, though. Kinda makes you wonder WTF? If it is illegal content, that is one thing. The trouble starts when people want to block legal content "for the good" of people trying to reach said legal content.
      • by falconwolf (725481)

        the KKK's speech with a history of the civil war. Not to mention that something like 'hate speech' is almost entirely subjective,

        Yeap, what can be called "hate speech" is entirely subjective. And I disagree with any and all laws making "hate speech" illegal. By making them illegal all you do is drive them underground. Instead what's needed to fight "hate speech" is to debate on the merits, or lack thereof, and the facts, or lack thereof. If those making such speechs won't participate then it just goe

  • So Which Is It? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:15PM (#18429977)
    So which is it. An article of general interest, or a rant because some ISP doesn't like your web-site? While I believe in net neutrality in the pure sense, and not the sense when used at the title of a bill that attempts just the opposite, I also like truth in labeling and the use of proper [rant]...[/rant] tags.
    • Flip-flop = Evil?!? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @01:07PM (#18430843) Homepage Journal
      Even worse, it's a rant about something that happened 7 years ago. And he's still holding a hand full of people accountable for something a corporation did back then.

      Why do people get stuck on this whole 'not changing their minds' crap. It's like if you are a war backer, then go to war, come home and say "Ya know, war isn't so grand." You get labeled as a 'flip-flopper' and discredited. At some point along the way it became a social evil to learn from your mistakes and change your mind.

      So some board wrote a policy 7 years ago that pissed this guy off, and since then, some of the members of that board have been working on steps that are at odds with that policy. Does it have to be irony? Or could it just be that over the last 7 years their understanding of the Internet and the related social-economic impacts has grown and they have changed their minds?

      -Rick
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:17PM (#18430003) Homepage

    Put all that blithering into Microsoft Word 97, clicked on Tools->AutoSummarize, and got this 500 word summary:

    Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being blocked was mine. Which begs the question: If they really believe that backbone companies have the right to silently block Web sites, are some of them headed for a rift with Net Neutrality supporters?"

    In the aforementioned instance, AboveNet and TeleGlobe were not selling "parental filters" or other common types of filtered Internet access; the users being blocked from our Web sites were adults paying for what they thought were unfiltered Internet connections. If an ISP filters incoming mail from known spammers, that generally improves the user experience, and is something many users would expect an ISP to do anyway. Similarly, if an ISP blocks traffic from sites because of spam or other network abuse, that serves to protect their own users. But if an ISP blocks users from viewing sites because of their content, that's generally not expected by users, unless they've specifically signed up for something like a parental controls. Well, true, but the fact that AboveNet blocked Web sites was not widely known even within the company; when I once called AboveNet feigning ignorance and asking them if they blocked RBL'ed Web sites, the technician who spoke to me said, "No, that wouldn't make any sense." Some have argued that if an ISP blocks the user from reaching a Web site, then even if the ISP is defrauding the user, that's still strictly an issue between the user and the ISP. The modern-day threats to Net Neutrality are different: slowing access to Web sites unless the site owners pay a "toll", instead of blocking access to sites because of the content of other sites hosted at the same ISP. If a user buys Internet access, they almost always buy it with the understanding that if they access a site, the content will download as quickly as their connection allows.

    There is a clear line between following user preferences by blocking spam, and countermanding user preferences by blocking sites because of their content -- and once you've crossed that line, where's the logical stopping point? It was MAPS's decision, not ours or our ISP's, to have our site blocked. I tried to track down the influential people who had spoken out supporting AboveNet's blocking of Web sites, or at least their right to block Web sites. INTERNET NEUTRALITY

    Second, there's network neutrality. In Internet service, the government mandates nothing. Although, he didn't get to making any such frank statements during the controversy over AboveNet's Web site blocking. Internet service providers have voluntarily upheld content-neutral practices without the need for government intervention, and consumers would never stand for blocked Web sites...

  • by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:20PM (#18430051) Journal
    If it's proper for an ISP to block email that has questionable or unwanted content (eg, spam), why is it not proper for that same ISP to block Websites that also have questionable or unwanted content (eg, phishing sites)? Just because AboveNet and TeleGlobe, or more accurately MAPS, went overboard and blacklisted innocent sites, doesn't mean the principle is invalid.

    The real issue here isn't that ISPs were blocking access to Websites, it's that the reputation service they were using to judge which sites should be blocked used questionable methods to determine eligibility for blocking. Given my experience with Spamhaus in fighting spam, I would have no problem if my ISP used them to block access to possible phishing or scam sites, in addition to combating spam.
    • by CXI (46706) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:35PM (#18430255) Homepage
      If it's proper for an ISP to block email that has questionable or unwanted content (eg, spam), why is it not proper for that same ISP to block Websites that also have questionable or unwanted content (eg, phishing sites)?

      If those website were spewing http requests at my browser without having been asked to do so, your comment would make sense. However that's not how it works. Website do not take up my bandwidth, storage, resources or time without an explicit request on my part for a reply. It is an entirely different situation. If you moved this into the area of spam sites that flood your screen with unrequested popups, then you might have a point. For the majority of websites, however, that does not apply.
      • by corbettw (214229)
        If those website were spewing http requests at my browser without having been asked to do so, your comment would make sense.

        So you think it would be wrong for an ISP to block phishing sites that are designed to look like, say, Bank of America and dupe unsuspecting customers into disclosing account information? I'm not saying ISPs should be saddled with an affirmative duty to block those sites, but if they chose to I can't see any reasonable person complaining about it.
        • Phishing is an illegal activity. No one is saying not to block off unlawful web sites. Likewise, no one is saying to not block kiddie porn. What people are saying is, don't block all the websites hosted by a company that doesn't even have spammers as customers, but that sells mailing list software that could be abused by spammers. Likewise, if people are selling illegal drugs from a website, block them. But someone who sells grow lamps from a website should not cause everyone from the hosting company t
          • by corbettw (214229)
            Go back and read my original comment, you're basically saying the same thing I already did.

            I swear, Slashdot would be a lot more interesting if the reading comprehension of most of its users was just a tad higher than it is.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LoverOfJoy (820058)
      Most email providers just put the spam in a separate junk folder, allowing the user to decide whether to delete it all or check first to make sure something important accidentally got placed there. I wouldn't have a problem with ISPs doing something similar with websites that may be scams/phishing. If some warning popped up that required me to click to continue (along with saving my choice for the future) I might consider it a useful feature depending on how accurate it was at spotting scams/phishing.

      I wo
    • Hear! Hear! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by winkydink (650484) *
      Malicious content on the internet has grown exponentially since criminals figured out how to make money using the internet.

      There's a line here. Most people would say that ISP's blocking spam is a good thing. OK, what about blocking access to web sites that contain known malicious code? How about known phishing sites, should these be blocked? Or botnet C&C's?

      Again, since most people will accept that some line exists over what should and should not be blocked, then the argument comes down to where to d
      • by jp10558 (748604)
        Spam is unsolicited. Websites in general are not. I can usually opt-out of spam filtering either individually or en-masse. If I can do the same with blocked web sites then fine - but it needs to be as clear as the junkmail folder / spam notice so I know what the problem is, and how to bypass it if I want to.

        Why do I want this? Because I want to decide what sites I go to. I probably won't agree with someone else's decisions.
    • I should add that I have an option of choosing an email provider that doesn't block any emails or put them in junk folders. In some areas there isn't really many/any options for ISPs.
    • If it's proper for an ISP to block email that has questionable or unwanted content (eg, spam), why is it not proper for that same ISP to block Websites that also have questionable or unwanted content (eg, phishing sites)?

      Because email and web site are two entirely different animals as far as the accessing paradigm is concerned? It's proper for an ISP to block email spams because they consume the ISP's resources and they come from someone who didn't pay for the consumption and those who paid to consume do

    • by DRJlaw (946416)
      I would have no problem if my ISP used them to block access to possible phishing or scam sites, in addition to combating spam.

      Nice for you. I would have a problem if my ISP used them to block access to a site that I wanted to reach, including phishing or scam sites, in addition to combating spam. Why are you so willing to throw my expectation that I can browse a site that I explicitly want to browse under the proverbial bus?

      If it's proper for an ISP to block email that has questionable or unwanted content
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Thuktun (221615)
      You appear to be suggesting that the MAPS RBL used "questionable methods" in this case, and that Spamhaus should be looked to as a model of how it should be done.

      In that case, you might find this post [google.com] interesting. It's from Steve Linford, founder of Spamhaus, in defense of MAPS to Bennett Haselton of Peacefire.org:

      Peacefire.org is posting "MAPS are blocking us" press releases
      deliberately distorting facts to suit your own agenda. The prime fact
      you ignore is that Media3 could have placed your www.peacefire.org
      site in any of their many netblocks, but in August they chose to put
      you in the middle of a class C containing notorious spam gangs whose
      many IPs were _already_ on the MAPS RBL, and Joe Hayes at Media3 had
      been told, by MAPS, in June, _two months_ before they put you in that
      block that the whole class C would be blackholed. Do you not even
      think Media3 had a duty to tell you that the block they were going to
      put you in was about to be placed on the RBL? If they had told you,
      would you have agreed or even volunteered to be placed in there
      knowing you'd be blackholed by 45% of the Internet?

      The real issue here, from their perspective, is an ISP trying to use one of their vocal, high-reputation customers as a lever to dislodge blackhole listings against some of their low-reputation

  • by asninn (1071320) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:29PM (#18430175)

    Which begs the question: If they really believe that backbone companies have the right to silently block Web sites, are some of them headed for a rift with Net Neutrality supporters?

    Please, do look up the difference between "begging the question" and "raising a/the question".

    Also, the headline ("Virginia ISPs silently blocking websites") is so misleading I'm really having trouble applying Hanlon's razor here - either CmdrTaco needs to learn how to read (i.e., do more than just glance over the first paragraph in an attempt to find certain trigger words that'd likely get an emotional response from the Slashdot crowd), or he needs to develop some ethics of his own. This site is not supposed to be more than a tech-oriented, (mostly) liberal version of FOX "news", after all (or at least that's what I think).

    (And the fact that it's the site's head honcho who posted this story with this headline instead of one of his subordinate drones just makes it even sadder.)

    • by lahvak (69490)
      Maybe it wasn't exactly CmdrTaco's fault. The piece is so badly written that it's almost unreadable. Aforementioned my ass! I wouldn't blame CmdrTaco for using totally misleading headline, I blame him for simply posting this crap at all!
    • Please, do look up the difference between "begging the question" and "raising a/the question".

      Okay, I did:

      - beg the question
      1 : to pass over or ignore a question by assuming it to be established or settled
      2 : to elicit a question logically as a reaction or response

      (source: Merriam Webster [m-w.com])

      While the former definition, used in logical arguments, is regarded as more correct in an academic context, the raise-the-question definition "has nevertheless become very common", as Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] puts it.

      Words

  • Ye Gawds! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rueger (210566) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:33PM (#18430215) Homepage
    He had me right up until "But there was also an oft-forgotten episode in 2000 ... Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being blocked was mine [CC].

    Ok, when your argument begins with an 7 year old gripe about actions that were directed at you, any suggestion of objectivity goes right out the door.

    Really, this is blog fodder, not something that should be posted unedited on the Slashdot front page.
    • Re:Ye Gawds! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:53PM (#18430605)

      Ok, when your argument begins with an 7 year old gripe about actions that were directed at you, any suggestion of objectivity goes right out the door.

      You don't have to be objective to be correct or even to present a useful example as to why some change is needed.

    • by arivanov (12034)
      Well...
      Net neutrality is really a 7+ years old gripe.
      A vastly different gripe.
      In fact it is 9+ year old gripe.

      Prior to the dot bomb boom providers commonly charged and offered different rates/SLAs/etc based on traffic source/destination especially outside the US. Essentially the Net was NOT neutral. In fact it still is not neutral in many places outside the US. The dot bomb replaced this mostly realistic economic model with a whole lot rabid dreams. The differential charging, usage charging and per-

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MobyDisk (75490)
      1.

      Ok, when your argument begins with an 7 year old gripe about actions that were directed at you, any suggestion of objectivity goes right out the door.

      Find, start with that bias. The author admitted it, so it is quite fair of you to take that into account. But the arguments that follow provide clear examples, links to relevant research and articles, and clear non-emotional arguments. The author earned that objectivity back IMHO.

      2.

      Really, this is blog fodder, not something that should be posted unedited on the Slashdot front page.

      Yes, it is blog fodder, but Slashdot is a news/blog aggregator. I found this insightful and good information for the next time a Net Neutrality discussion begins.

      On a related note, I find it often unfair that someone's ar

  • For a period of several weeks, my ISP was blocking Keenspot.com; at first I thought the site was just down, then I found out that I could reach it if I went through a proxy and used an alternative DNS server . When I called them to ask what was going on, the rep said that they had been DOS attacked from that IP and would not be unblocking it. A few hours after the phone call, though, the site was accessible again.

    An attack from Keenspot, of all places, seems very, very unlikely, and I live in one of the mos
  • So, does this mean my ISP is filtering Bennett Haseltons' website, or did it get Slashdotted ?
  • Today:
    Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being blocked was mine.

    Seven years from now:
    Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being DOSed by Slashdot was mine.

    Also, as a resident of Virginia, the article's title caused me unnecessary concern. Thanks a lot.

    Dan East
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday March 21, 2007 @12:57PM (#18430673) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, AT&T/Cingular is blocking its cellular customers from calling into free conferencing services [arstechnica.com] that use VoIP for competing with AT&T/Cingular.

    Network Neutrality: it's not just for the Internet. It's just one way we need to protect ourselves from the AT&T monopoly (or its duopoly with Verizon) that America worked so long and hard to obtain 20 years ago. Which AT&T has worked so long and hard since then to endrun, nearly back to its original market control, in a much larger market. A market that expanded only because of the divestiture.
    • by Software (179033)
      Your link does not make it sound so cut-and-dry.

      The 712 area code used by these services allow the local carriers to charge a number of subsidies to those carrying the incoming calls due to the location of the tiny, rural exchange. These fees are split between the local exchange and the "free" conference call company, which allows them to make a pretty penny. The fees for these calls made into 712 are higher than those charged by other exchanges, and AT&T/Cingular has in fact filed a lawsuit against the

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        I'm not so sure that the reasons AT&T/Cingular wants to block them are cut and dried. But their power to block them seems cut and dried to AT&T, at their sole discretion. If they're blocking abuse, they have regulatory ways to stop it. But they're just blocking it. Even if today's reasons are good ones, tomorrow's might not be, at AT&T's discretion. And with a solid precedent, AT&T will have more safety in abusing that power.
  • MAPS entire function was to filter the Internet according to their standards. If you failed to meet their standards, they wanted to block you. Totally. Any way that was within their power to do so. This is the entire function of an RBL. The fact that enterprising folks decided to extend this beyond email should be considered simply an extension of the power of an RBL. Anti-spammers are a rabid crowd with all the morals of a mob.

    More meaningless ranting about ISP pricing. Unfortunately, I copied the p

  • Because somebody has to pay those bills, and if the law says that the ISPs can't charge the big guys - the big users - differently, it means that they have to charge them the same rate that they charge everyone else. And that means not that their rate will go down, but that everybody else's rate will go up.

    Uhh - That bandwidth has already been paid for.

    The content providers pay their ISPs for bandwidth in/out.
    The users pay their ISPs for bandwidth in/out.
    The ISPs pay the backbone providers for bandwidth in/
  • I refuse to read this. Brevity is a virtue. I have too much other crap to worry about.
  • Maybe I'm biased, since one of the Web sites being blocked was mine.

    To throw a little salt on that wound, Websense has your website (www.peacefire.org) categorized as "Proxy Avoidance". There are probably a LOT of Websense customers who can't get to your website.

  • A communication error occurred: "Connection refused".

    Apparently you're still being blocked =\
  • Is anyone else getting a "Connection Refused" reply when going to "www.peacefire.org"?
  • In 2000, Peacefire was hosted by ISP Media3, which also hosted of major spammers. That year, Media3 moved Peacefire into a new block of IP addresses which it knew was already listed in the MAPS RBL due to spamming. No reason was ever given for this move. Speculation was that this was either some sort of publicity stunt, or that Media3 was trying to use Peacefire as a sort of "human shield" to convince MAPS to drop the listing. That's when Haselton began complaining about censorship.

    It was suggested th

    • by Burz (138833)
      Interesting.

      But can you tell me what business ISPs have blocking whole IP blocks?
  • ...and I'll block who I want to.

    That goes for UU or Above.Net as much as the teensy networkette I actually run. If my users don't like it, I'll lose em.

    Network neutrality is the wrong solution to the real problem, which is last-mile monopolies in the US domestic ISP market. Sort your government out, make it illegal to buy law enforcement, and join the rest of us in the 21st Century. Or don't. Personally, I couldn't give a fuck, as I'm not in the US.

  • I remember from a couple of years ago (I don't have a link tho), the URL for the website of a contestant of "australian idol" was missprinted (they dropped the .au I think), and the visitors ended up on a dead gay (male) porn star's website instead. So the big ISPs in australia took over the domain and redirected the users to the other boring website. It wasn't silent (they actually put a notice that they were being redirected), but still, the poor dead gay porn star guy had no say in the matter.

    I consider

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