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SBC/Pacbell To Filter 90% Of alt.binaries Groups 253

An Anonymous Coward writes: "I received an email from (Pacific Bell's ISP), stating that they're transitioning their usenet services to Prodigy. They're making a few changes along the way." He excerpts from the email: "In addition, after evaluating possible copyright infringement issues, newsgroup usage and the cost of providing newsgroup access, we will no longer offer some alt.binary newsgroups. For a list of alt.binaries that will no longer be offered, please refer to our FAQ at' Note that the link currently doesn't go to the right place. After telephoning SBC, I was informed that upwards of 90% of the alt.binaries.* groups are going to be blocked."
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SBC/Pacbell To Filter 90% Of alt.binaries Groups

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  • bummer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CodeMonky ( 10675 )
    we had to do the same thing at our University connection simply becuase the newsfeeed was using a ton of our bandwidth trying to keep up with the alt.binaries.* group. Sucks that upstreams are doing the same thing though.
  • by Jish ( 80046 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:27AM (#2242900)
    I realize this story is about fighting censorship and arguing about how big business is taking away our freedoms...

    However, a good alternative for newsgroup access I have used for a while is:

    uncensored-news []

    The upgrade regularly and I have never had problems accessing them or finding a group. And now they have a special server just for multimedia and binaries...

    Just a thought for any of you who want a solution other than an uphill battle with your ISP...


    • by great throwdini ( 118430 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:52AM (#2242976)

      Interesting licensing terms [] over at uncensored-news []:

      17. ACCEPTANCE

      "Bookmarking this web site shall constitute an implicit acceptance of the foregoing terms herein set."

      Having dragged the link from the parent post [] onto my desktop, I somehow managed to accept terms to a service about which I had not even read. We do live in strange times, don't we? :\

      Seriously though, no refunds, hostile chargeback policy, etc. It's being run as an 'adult service' but if it nets me a better feed of the groups, maybe I'll...

      • Interesting licensing terms

        yeah, I was thinking the same thing. pulling a gig a day at $35/mo seems ok - but their TOS seems to prohibit running suck-like programs.

        and the worst part is that they will append a tag-line advert. to all posts. hey, if I'm paying for service, I don't want to have any edits done to my posts. and that includes appending.

      • This is cute, too (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:06AM (#2243004) Homepage Journal
        From their benefits page []:

        By the act of entering this site, I agree to the terms set forth in the terms & conditions

        Well, I'm glad you do. And when you can provide an airtight definition of what "the act of entering this site" means, and some explanation of how users can agree to something they haven't seen, then maybe I'll think about agreeing too... or not.

        By the way, your reading this post constitutes your agreement to immediately pay $100 into the TomatoMan Gets A New G4 fund. Thank you for your contribution.
      • If you're going to pay for news, consider Easynews. They (unlike your description of Uncensored News) don't come off like assholes, have customer support reps available by phone, email, and ICQ (!), and charge a reasonable price for their service. I have no affiliation with them except as a satisfied customer.

        If you just want to read text groups, I imagine (though haven't personally checked) that has a fairly complete feed. The downside is that you can't use a traditional NNTP client. However, their web-based threaded reader isn't all that bad.

      • So if I just remember the URL and type it in everytime, am I agreeing to anything? Is it bookmarked in my brain?

        What if I start typing the URL and my browser completes it for me?
      • Blah...

        This is one thing that irritates me about slashdot... everybody is posting "oh my god I found this horrible thing on line 126144 of the TOS"...

        Whatever, I pay $10/month and get NNTP access to some 90,000 groups and have never had a single problem... period.

        So yeah, somebody in their legal department put some shitty things into their terms of service... but if it never actually means anything to me as a user then I can let it slide...

        • by TomatoMan ( 93630 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @12:06PM (#2243172) Homepage Journal
          This is one thing that irritates me about slashdot... everybody is posting "oh my god I found this horrible thing on line 126144 of the TOS"...

          Whatever, I pay $10/month and get NNTP access to some 90,000 groups and have never had a single problem... period.

          So yeah, somebody in their legal department put some shitty things into their terms of service... but if it never actually means anything to me as a user then I can let it slide...
          Exactly the attitude their legal department hopes you'll have. "Sign here, and here, and - HEY! DON'T READ THAT! - sign here, and here..." (Berke Breathed)

          As long as you never have a problem, then you'll never have a problem. If you do, the first thing you'll have to do is find out what you agreed to, with your fingers crossed. Then don't act surprised at the results.
    • Yes but, .... that's not free. The monthly fee I pay my ISP includes access to their news servers. I wouldn't want to pay more just to access USENET.

      This also sets a bad precedent. If one ISP filters newsgroups in an attempt to stop possible Copyright violations, how long will it be before others follow suit? How long will it take before the RIAA starts threatening ISP's with lawsuits because they allow their users access to forums known to violate Copyright protections?

      The sad part is the RIAA will do this all in the name of the DMCA! Which means the ISP's will have no choice but to comply or face an ugly lawsuit...

      If this keeps up, the DMCA will make it illegal to even access the internet!!
    • For professional newsserver providers like these, uncensored generally just means they don't try to filter out spam. Other than that, they will not remove anything, except for Newsguy, which will remove the message, and end your subscription (giving you a refund for the remaining days), if you write a message saying anything bad about them. I doubt these services will like to filter for copyright, as it's generally the only reason people will pay for their services.
    • I'll jump along with UseNet Server [] then :) I've used them for years and can only say good things ... _extremely_ fast response times when mailing support ...
    • Look, that's not how usenet works. It is *not* true that newsspools carry all groups save those that have been censored, nor has this been true for over ten years.

      A spool subscribes/peers/whatevers to carry the groups it wants. They tend to do this by customer interest. It is very rare to find a place that carries *all* of the newsgroups--and it is likely that noen exist at all. As a matter of fact, I'll bet against finding one that carries both the psu.* and iastate.* heirarchies . . .

      Each newsgroup carried requires resources, both in disk storage and bandwidth. Cutting high-bandwidth groups saves on both.

      Finally, the realistic groups which get cut off? It's the naked.bimbo.* heriarchy--which after a recent audit, a big player found consumed more than 90% of the resources for usenet . . .

      hawk, who still thinks allowing mime on usenet was a bad idea

  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:29AM (#2242910)
    Although I agree that a big, fat news server does make an ISP more attractive...

    when I buy internet service, I want IP routing, PERIOD. I don't *want* to pay for whatever wierd services they think they need to run. I'll do my own mail, dns, everything else.

    If tehy don't want to waste resources (legal or technical) in carrying some newsgroups.. fine. I guess it sucks for their customers who like it....
    but I've been paying for access to news-servers separately for years now. It just makes sense. They are far less likely to change policies and rip you off when it's their sole business.
    • by treat ( 84622 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:21AM (#2243041)
      I'll do my own mail, dns, everything else.

      You're lucky that you're allowed to. Increasingly, ISPs are not allowing this, wanting to charge 5-10 times as much for business rates for customers that want such simple things as an e-mail address that will never change.

      • I'll do my own mail, dns, everything else.
        You're lucky that you're allowed to. Increasingly, ISPs are not allowing this, wanting to charge 5-10 times as much for business rates for customers that want such simple things as an e-mail address that will never change.
        My ideal setup:
        • High-speed bitpipe (microwave wireless, ideally; if not, preferably DSL, primarily because phone companies aren't quite as clueless as cable companies are when providing tech support), no services, from Provider A (best of breed).
        • Web hosting, email, and shell access from Provider B (best of breed) (MUST have SSH and SIMAP services, sine qua non)
        • Backup web-based email from Provider C (best of breed) (or possibly something like SquirrelMail on the web-host)
        • Usenet? I quit using Usenet years ago. If I really need it, there's usually a gatewayed mailing list or archive.
        You think you guys have got it bad, we couldn't get gatech to carry ANY of the alt.* groups some years ago.... it was the Sacred Seven or fuggeddabowdit. In any event, I generally ignore monopolist ISPs' (cable companies, ILECs, universities) offerings for anyting but bandwidth and go elsewhere for services.

        But yeah, the workaround is just to pick up a shell account somewhere and use that... or perhaps would be helpful.... but there are ways.

        The Net inteprets censorship as damage and routes around it.
        -- John Gilmore

  • Conduit/Content (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Satai ( 111172 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:29AM (#2242911)
    The idea of filtering based on content is what is important here. I was under the impression that as long as the ISP "only provided the lines" - that is, was merely a conduit to the Great Big Internet - they were allowed to get away with lots of illegal stuff going on; but as soon as they began to make value judgments based on legality, they were responsible for all further illegal activity. I could be wrong, but that's the impression I was under (sounds reasonable to me, to be honest.)

    Filtering based on bandwidth isn't a new thing - this is why we have such a proliferation of Usenet Providers []. Lots of ISPs filter to keep down the cost for such a relatively small 'payback' in user satisfaction/use.

    But, again, I'm curious - does this make them liable for the illegal content that does get through, since they are now officialy filtering based on legality?

    • Re:Conduit/Content (Score:4, Informative)

      by Amoeba ( 55277 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:55AM (#2242979)
      At an ISP I once worked at I was involved in establishing newsgroup policies and the possible legal consequences and this is my take based upon the legal advice and discussions I had at the time. Unless there have been some changes in the past few years that I've missed, the minute an ISP changes their terms of service to explicitly block access based on the legality of content they technically lose their "common carrier" status protection and can be held liable etc.

      Unfortunately these kinds of cases never get to court in any way that would force a change of this type of crap because of the purposefully vague and specious language describing what exactly you're paying for in that same damned ToS.

      Basically it still boils down to whether your lawyer(money) can beat up their lawyer(money), though the size of the ToS "backdoors" & loopholes can help :)

      • Re:Conduit/Content (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Unless there have been some changes in the past few years

        DMCA, Napster et al.

        Things have changed, brother. Common carrier status don't mean jack anymore. If you can restrict the flow of copyrighted materials, you are legally bound to now.

    • Re:Conduit/Content (Score:5, Informative)

      by DennyK ( 308810 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:08AM (#2243008)
      If they were actually filtering *traffic* based on content, that might leave them liable for all kinds of fun lawsuits. But in this case, they are not filtering traffic, they're just refusing to offer some newsgroups on their own news server. Essentially, they're only changing what content they are offering on their own server, not what kind of content passes over their lines...and no matter what the reasons, that should not affect (legally) their responsibility for general traffic. I'd guess PacBell/SBC customers can use any other news servers out there and still be able to access groups that aren't carried on Prodigy's.

      Thank goodness RoadRunner still offers most, if not "all", of the alt.binaries.* tree... ;)

    • Re:Conduit/Content (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The slashdot headline is misleading. They could not care less about what constitutes the traffic in these groups. They are simply saying the traffic is too high, so they are choosing not to carry these groups. I guess that the ones they will carry are those with a large readership.
    • interesting question.

      far as I know, it still hasn't been litigated. Certainly there are no appeals court decisions on the matter.

      when dealing with new legal issues, of which there are plenty in the electronics world (hell - there've been software patents since the late '70s, and there still isn't a single infringement case), lawyers tend to be cautious and advise their clients that things which might be illegal in fact are.

      the DMCA's common-carrier clause is rather complex, and has yet to be tested. something to watch out for.

  • People are going to download this stuff regardless. The advantage to having your own news server is that IT downloads the content, then basicly caches it for all your customers on YOUR network so they don't have to go over your $$$ backbone connection (well its more expensive than bandwidth traveling on your own network) to get to supernews or whatever. Filtering like that is just stupid.

    • Next, they'll TOS the customers using {Easynews|Supernews|Giganews|whatever}, since it's really all about bandwidth--the copyright stuff is just a smokescreen.
    • Except most users don't know what Usenet is. I would guess that the bandwidth used by the news server would far outweigh what users would use downloading the same stuff elsewhere. And since it's only a small segment of an ISP's customers who uses Usenet, it's not going to piss off too many of their customers if they discontinue it all together.

      Several years ago I was a fan of Usenet (for conversations and getting information, not download binaries), but it's been ruined by the spammers. I havn't used it in quite some time now.

  • I can't say that I blame PacBell for filtering alt.binaries newsgroups. At one point in time, around ten years ago, newsgroups were the pinnacle of the digital age. Scholars from colleges and universities from around the globe could virtually congregate, and dissiminate a vast wealth of knowledge almost instantaneously.

    If PacBell were filtering newsgroups ten years ago, I would be upset, and cry "Censorship", but sadly, in more recent times, the quality of content in newsgroups has gone straight down the crapper. The only content you'll find nowadays is Get Rich Quick spam, bomb recipes, and pr0n. There's no worthwhile content to protect.

    I say, let it die peacefully. The intelligent people left newsgroups a long time ago and the only remaining denizens are the pornographers and anarchists who don't deserve a voice in the first place.

    • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:34AM (#2242926) Homepage

      I say, let it die peacefully. The intelligent people left newsgroups a long time ago and the only remaining denizens are the pornographers and anarchists who don't deserve a voice in the first place.

      Sort of a pity, realy, since NNTP is a protocal designed for distributed discussion groups. Now, instead, we're all stuck with web-based messaging systems, like this one, which, in a word, suck. Oh, some are better than others, but to my view, using a web browers for a discussion board is like using a hammer to drive screws.

      Think about it: we're all stuck with the interface that the server has decided to implement. Whereas, with NNTP, we can each choose our own newsreader client, and yet still all communicate.

      A pity that the Web Browser has become such the "killer ap" that now everybody uses it even when there are far better longstanding tools out there.


    • I say, let it die peacefully. The intelligent people left newsgroups a long time ago and the only remaining denizens are the pornographers and anarchists who don't deserve a voice in the first place.

      Why would any group of people "not deserve a voice"? Perhaps you didn't mean it literally, but no matter how inane the average content from any group of people may seem, they still should be entitled to say what they have to say.

    • Mostly I agree with you - many nerds will
      probably present seemingly very good reasons why *this is so wrong*, but what would probably bother them most is the lack of porn. What makes me sick very easily is how porn is often defended by claiming that we deserve free speech, free expression.. for these people I suggest how their future wives will feel for their addictive habit, think the correlation between pornography and faithfullness, and I wonder if they'll recommend porn for their future children (which they'll probably have at some stage).

      It's only too bad that most of the porn is now on the Web instead of Usenet, and Usenet isn't filled with rubbish only. I subscribe to seven Usenet groups; two of them deal with Xemacs or Gnus, three with Perl, one with Adom RPG :) and one is our local Linux newsgroup (local to Finland). These groups have been of great value to me (perhaps with the exception of r.g.r.a), and it'd be sad to see them disappear. But then again, none of those are binary groups, and I hope that ISP's will take away pr0n groups first before other binary groups.

      • What makes me sick very easily is how Perl is often defended by claiming that we deserve free speech, free expression.. for these people I suggest how their future wives will feel for their addictive habit, think the correlation between Perl and faithfullness, and I wonder if they'll recommend Perl for their future children (which they'll probably have at some stage).

        .....if the shoe fits...

      • Yeah, have to agree, it is not like pornagraphers deserver free speech, eh? People vs Larry Flint, anyone?

        No, I think Usenet is more of a "it is there if you want it" kind of thing versus "here's a dozen pop up/under ads for your viewing frustration, while you are looking for ".

        It is GET (usenet) vs PUSH (we all know how well that went).


        My 2cents 2day = 4 now
    • You're right. Usenet has degenerated into spam and worthless content. Sure, there are groups that still have decent content in them but they are few and far between the groups like and Once that stuff started to appear I think it was the beginning of the end. Besides, the pornographers have really moved onto the web. They don't need to spend their days trawling newsgroups to download the 600 individual posts to recreate that image of goatsex. I say filter the entire alt.binaries heirarchy and be done with it. That would leave more content and longer retention times for the rest of us still reading the few newsgroups out there that are worth reading.
    • bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

      by unformed ( 225214 )
      i can see dropping binaries, simply because 90% of it is illegal and it's taking 90% of the bandwidth ...just like the "5% of society own 95% of the wealth"

      However, of the actual discussions, newsgroups are still very useful. I've used various alt.comp.lang.*,, to help fix problems in my code

      i've used rec.skydiving and rec.aviation.hang-gliding to find information on both sports (r.s gets at least a hundred ON-TOPIC posts a day)

      and i've used various other discussion groups to get a quick answer to something that i couldn't google.

      newsgroups -are- still useful. Sure, 90% of it is crap; there's a lot of spam going through them. Just take about ten minutes of your day, and apply a few kill-filters.

      And the discussion groups that I regularly visit get very little to no spam at all.
  • Comcast@home already censors USENET, both binary and non-binary groups, removing those which they deem inappropriate. I imagine other ISPs are doing the same. It doesn't really surprise me that they would expand this.
    • How is that censorship? They're just not subscribing to certain groups. They have a right to do that in the same way my cable company has a right not to offer Playboy, Spice, and other adult-oriented channels. Sure, it sucks big time but there are alternatives (DirecTV) and in your case, the web.
  • by Basje ( 26968 ) <> on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:43AM (#2242946) Homepage
    ... they just don't offer the service anymore. Please consider that offering the alt.binaries newsgroups costs a lot of money: it's a lot of data, which has to be stored, and there's a lot of possible legal implications, which costs a lot of money too, in the US of A.

    As far as I see it, everybody is free to go to another news server, with all the binaries you could want. They're not about to block that. They just won't offer it anymore.
    • Back in the olden days, Pacbel was the 'backbone' of Northern California uucp, which served mostly email and usenet. Funny how they have become a rinky-dink internet service and even exist as an ISP only because they have a (soon to be) monopoly on DSL.

      It's been a long way down for Pacbel to think they can do better by farming out their usenet services to an outfit like Prodigy.

  • Anybody know if Time-Warner Cable puts any restrictions on their ISP customers that your average dial-up $20 a month all you can eat ISP doesn't?
    • by Kasreyn ( 233624 )
      Almost every cable provider (that I've seen, that is) has it in their TOS that you can't run an FTP server, some of them also say you can't run a webserver (and hands you a gayass little "personal web space" thing as a consolation prize).

      So if you don't mind getting a hardware router to disguise your firewall dishonestly, by all means go with cable.

  • alt.binaries.* makes up the lion's share of Usenet bandwidth. Cutting it out can mean that, with the same amount of storage, you can usually hold articles 5-10x longer. Plus with DMCA, who wants to be the one taking the risk with copyrighted software (not to mention porn).

    Third party news hosts may be in order for those who are going to miss the a.b.*. :)
  • so does google (Score:2, Informative)

    by dobratzp ( 155212 )
    Of course the alt.binaries groups contain a lot of warez/pr0n and gernally questionably legal material. However, there is the occasional alt.binaries.calc-ti, but even google [] doesn't have the alt.binaries.* hierarchy. This is probably because of it's massive size yet thorough lack of textual information.
    • This is probably because of it's massive size yet thorough lack of textual information.

      ...but technically it's all textual information. Ain't my fault you never learned to uudecode and do the compile in your head.


  • Binary groups either contain legitimate data that has a minority of interested parties, or are illegal.

    If the data is illegal, then the organisation has no reason to supply it. Get it from a less reputable source. If the data is legal, then it will be available virtually everywhere else as well, so you haven't lost anything.

    And these groups take up a LOT of bandwidth. If everyone who wants the data were to download it, the net usage would probably be sufficiently lower, especially if they use a decent cache on their network.

    • "Binary groups either contain legitimate data that has a minority of interested parties... If the data is legal, then it will be available virtually everywhere else as well..."

      Minority of interested parties != available everywhere.

      Non sequitir. Human error detected.


  • by sessamoid ( 165542 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:48AM (#2242963)
    While cutting down on their news server costs considerably, this move could backfire on them. If a significant number of their customers actually like and use the alt.binaries groups on their news server, they'll go elsewhere for news service.

    The problem with this is that since the news is no longer kept within their own network, that all that traffic is going to have to pass through their mian connection to the internet. They could end up having to spend quite a bit more on bigger pipes as a result of this.

    Should be interesting to watch.
    • The only thing this'll really do is boost business for the independent news providers. The constant bandwidth consumption of a newsfeed is generally far less than the relatively few people who use the service.

      And to respond to the people crying censorship, they're not filtering anything. They're just not drawing some newsgroups through their newsfeed. If they stopped the news port at their border, then you might have a complaint.

      Besides, if you want to download shady stuff, you really ought to be using an independent news service anyways.

    • The ISP doesn't want the type of user who downloads 1GB per day from alt.binaries: in fact, they would be more than happy to lose them as customers.

      They want to provide a "surfing service." (quote from @home tech support drone). Basically, sell broadband to the people that don't need it: the ones who check their yahoo mail accounts and chat on AIM... the ones who couldn't even saturate a modem connection... The ideal business plan consists of a mass of ignorant users all checking their email, stocks, sports, weather.

      We see this with upload/download restrictions and transfer rate caps as well as the blocking of binaries groups.

      Besides, in most places you don't exactly have a lot of freedom in choosing your broadband provider: they can do anything to you and you'll keep them because they're still better than a modem.
  • Good for them. If you want to distribute files, put up a fucking web page or an ftp server. Usenet should be a discussion medium, and the reason good, broad, news servers are rare is that alt.binaries dwarfs the bandwidth of the entire rest of the feed.
  • IMHO, USENET is for news and discussions, not file transfers. I've been on USENET since early 1992, and I have seen the growth and increasing fillup of crap in most newsgroups.

    I really, really hate that ISP's block certain newsgroups that some people might find objectionable. Censorship is a very bad thing. But I have no problem with them refusing to carry the alt.binary.* hierarchy, we can't demand that they retreive these high-volume newsgroups as that would make the total cost for the service much higher than carrying only conversation-based newsgroups.

  • by PhotonSphere ( 193108 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:52AM (#2242974) Homepage Journal
    It seems to me that SBC has been looking for a reason to cut access to binary newsgroups for some time now. Nearly a year ago, they decided to cap d/l rates for their DSL customers to 128k, a far cry from the speeds of 1.5Mbps advertised as the overall speed of the service. This came (to me at least) with no warning and seemed to go against the quality of service I had been promised.

    This is an ugly trend...and (hopefully) may help pave the way for alternate ISPs and grassroots movements such as Guerilla Nets and FreeNets.

    • One of the reasons is that is up in the Bay Area, requiring a lot of expensive OC-192 bandwidth (or whatever they're using) to serve people in So. Cal. Moving everything into a centralized point on Prodigy continues their pattern of centralizing instead of distributing services. This trend is probably driven by their inability to acquire and keep competent sysadmins, or they would likely solve their bandwidth issues simply by creating strategically placed distributed servers. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, keeping their human resources available to keep the network up and running.

      As others have mentioned, this may backfire by forcing most of the usenet traffic they carry onto their backbone links. I believe SBC is hedging their bets that most of the alt.binaries.* usenet readers are in the sub-18 demographic, and therefore unable to purchase a 3rd party usenet account. I believe this is a bad assumption. Anyway, I'm just guessing/talking out the auxiliary mouth positioned on the side of my neck at this point, but it does sound like some crap a PHB (and don't forget SBC provided the prototype for the PHB) might come up with.

  • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @10:52AM (#2242975) Journal
    They are not FILTERING anything. They are just not offering some high-resource-using binary newsgroups any more.

    If they were really filtering alt.binaries.* newsgroups, you would not be able to access them from other 3rd party usenet providers.
  • Exec #1: Watch it.. posts on alt.binaries might violate the DCMA...

    Exec #2: Well... what if we just dont let them read the groups at all?

    Exec #1: Sure... why not... if we stop next to all access then we'll be safe..

    Exec #2: Its not like anyone actually reads or posts there anymore...

    Exec #1: Exactly.... So whats next on the ajenda?

    Exec #2: Hookers?

    Exec #1: Lets go..

    Is it just me or is this similar to implimenting manditory removal of the human voicebox so that we cant potentially SAY anything bad... *sigh* DCMA...
  • I've heard that once an ISP starts filtering content, they're open themselves up to liability for the content they ARE letting through. For example, if someone posts underage pornography to a group they're not filtering, they could be held liable because they, essentially, should have and didn't.

    On the other hand, as /. doesn't edit or delete posts, they're not held liable for what might get posted here.

    Quite obviously, IANAL... but I'd like to hear from a lawyer or someone who has some real knowledge about this. By squelching ANY newsgroup, are they responsible for what gets posted?
  • It's a good thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:09AM (#2243012) Homepage
    Though they have ulterior motives, I applaud the move. Anything that rids Usenet of the binaries is inherently good.

    A full newsfeed is 200 to 250 *GBytes* a day, of which only around 5% is text-based discussion. Just by dropping binaries and keeping the same amount of disk space, a news provider increases retention time for *real* discussions immensely. If I had to decide whether I want my ISP to serve incomplete binaries to or have six months retention for comp.lang.*, I'd prefer the latter (others might have different preferences, though ...)

    Get used to it: If you want binaries, pay for it. It's not that bad: 10 bucks a month, and you're in business. Go to Newsguy, Giganews, Supernews,, but don't expect your ISP to provide everything.

    • Problem is that USENET is still arranged very much like pipe connections were setup in internet days of yore.

      One service provider sets up a peering relationship with another service provider for usenet traffic. Among the large ISP's & universities there is still a large amount of traffic being relayed back and forth.

      When one provider cuts it's feed - it cuts it's feed for that arm of the branching tree .. it has impact outside of just SBC.

      Just to prove this .. hook up to your ISP's usenet server and pull a header list for a binary newsgroup .. alt.binaries.test is a decent example.

      download 1 message that correctly made it to your server.

      Turn off header suppression .. you will see the path the article took to get to you.

      As far as $10US for a commercial usenet provider .. good luck ..

      The ones I've looked at have a $10 per month service plan .. but it's only for 2-4 gigs of transfer per month ..

      Keeping up with even a small subset of groups will blow this away without any problem. try alt.binaries.anime and alt.binaries.multimedia.anime .. most digital fansub groups seem to end up here when they release new non-commerial anime material .. for example .. this group can push 1 gig a day .. just because a single episode of a show in VCD format is around 220 megs for 22 minutes of video..

      $10 just doesn't cover it ..

      • Any news admin that provides only for a single feed for certain newsgroups ought to be shot. By using multiple feeds, the flow won't be interrupted if a single source fails.

        The only thing that will be missing is Pacbell customers who cannot upload warez and porn through their ISP's newsserver (that is, until they find out that by crossposting to alt.test, they can even post to uncarried newsgroups ... shhh!)

        Regarding $10 services, I am quite satisfied with Newsguy. They have a cap of 500 MBytes a day, so for you VCDoholics that's quite a limitation; for me, it's more text-based groups than I could ever possibly read.

  • by RKloti ( 517839 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:12AM (#2243017)
    My ISP (Cablecom/Swissonline, a Swiss cable ISP) stopped carrying ALL binary groups a while ago, since they taking up too much bandwidth. AFAIK all the text ones are available including practically all of the national and supranational heirarchies - uk.* de.* fr.* it.* ch.* at.* africa.* , and some specific heirarchies, like gnu.*, as well as some commercial ones too, like microsoft.*, intel.*, corel.* . I'd guess their newsfeed is pretty large - not all of these groups are really that relevent. In fact, most of them are filled with spam, which sadly seems to have been the fate of Usenet.
  • by satsuke ( 263225 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:14AM (#2243025)
    I dumped SBC* services months ago explicitly because of usenet service.

    And it wasn't because of alt.bin* style groups. Just plain discussion groups were affected to.

    Here is a short timeline of SBC / PACBELL usenet service.

    Once upon a time SBC operated several usable usenet servers.

    Each one had acceptable retention times and a good varity of groups to see.

    There was also a server in prodigy-land that had a horrible retention rate and skipped articles left and right .. this was the one I never used.

    Than SBC instituted rate capping at 128K down .. there was a lot of activity in the swbell support newsgroups about this .. most along the lines of talking about class action lawsuits stemming from a rate cap on a service that was explicitly guaranteed at 384k for DSL service

    SBC than noticed that customers were leap frogging from server to server. In order to pull together each and every single piece of a multipart binary this was required sometimes.

    Up until this point the service was still relativly stable .. even though with the rate caps I had to start downloading stuff before work and finish up when I got home

    Than there was some large crash .. all of the indexs were corrupted and no usenet service for several days. Tech support knows nothing about usenet

    After his point there was barely a single multipart article that came across properly.

    So they're service became unusable and at that point I left as soon as my contract expired.

    Now I'm using RR in Kansas City .. 45K upstream .. around 2 meg down and a usenet service that is usable enough to follow discussions and follow binaries without spamming groups with repost request.

    This cut of content is just par for the course for SBC. Although I don't think it will affect many people though .. everyone I know who is still on SBC moved on to commercial usenet providers a long time ago.

    oh .. and Time Warner KC / RR jacked they're prices up to $45 .. now that SBC has backed off a bit from advertising they're service.

    funny thing .. my SBC DSL connection has been disconnected since March .. but when I turn the DSL modem on I still get ATM / DSL link contenuity .. must not be to awful busy if they can left former customers still take a port on the DSLAM>

  • by acceleriter ( 231439 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:27AM (#2243057)
    Sent: Friday, July 27, 2001 11:20 AM
    Subject: Attention Usenet Newsgroup Users - Important Information

    Dear Southwestern Bell Internet Services Usenet Newsgroup Member,

    If you are currently using Southwestern Bell Internet Services Usenet
    Newsgroups, we have very important information for you. As you may know,
    Southwestern Bell Internet Services has teamed with Prodigy®, a leading
    national Internet service provider, as the Southwestern Bell Internet
    Services preferred source of Usenet Newsgroups and other Internet related

    On July 25, 2001, your newsgroup server, which is currently hosted by
    Southwestern Bell Internet Services, will begin a transition to Prodigy. To
    continue using Usenet Newsgroups after the final transition date of August
    25, you must update your newsgroup software with new server information.

    For instructions on how to change your Usenet software, please visit After August 19, your current
    settings will no longer be available.

    In addition, after evaluating possible copyright infringement issues,
    newsgroup usage and the cost of providing newsgroup access, we will no
    longer offer some alt.binary newsgroups. For a list of alt.binaries that
    will no longer be offered, please refer to our FAQ at

    For Southwestern Bell Internet Services customer support regarding Usenet,
    please call:

    * 1-800-NET-HELP for Dial-up Access Customers
    * 1-877-SBC-DSL5 for DSL Internet Customers

    Thank you for using our service and for your attention to this matter. See
    you on your new Usenet Newsgroup service!


    The Southwestern Bell Internet Services Team

    Copyright 2001 Southwestern Bell Internet Services, Inc All rights
    reserved. Southwestern Bell and Southwestern Bell Internet Services, Inc.
    are registered trademarks of SBC Communications Inc. or its subsidiaries.
    Prodigy is a registered trademark of Prodigy Communications L.P. Other names
    may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    • Funny thing is, I'm a PacBell DSL subscriber and I never got this email! I only found out about the new naming scheme by going to the pbinet.* and alt.onlline-services.pacbell groups on Google!

      Don't you love their customer service?
      • they have a holding tank for those that have not gotten fed up enough to leave, and a HUGE SALES force to draw in new suckers (err I mean customers) When the were running their own stuff PacBell was decent i suppose, now they PLAIN SUCK, support, operation, nearly every facet of interaction with PACBELL DSL is painful.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The reall issue here is that they've offered a service, then gone out and reduced it, while not reducing their pricing. Basically it feels like they're violating my contract.
  • Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Masem ( 1171 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:32AM (#2243069)
    I wish more ISPs did it this way as well. USENET is not a file-transferring medium; it's meant for discussion in plain/text and nothing else. My current ISP doesn't filter anything, and when the newsgroup goes flakely, a good number of subscribers b&m about poor speeds and lack of multiple connections at high speeds, missing parts, poor retention, and groups not subscribed to. Of course, supporting what these users want is way more than I would expect any reasonable ISP to offer.

    I would love to see the lameness ratio of USENET decrease due to lack of users that were using it primarily for binary transfer, and back to the state it was before the Endless September, and wish more ISPs took this route.

    • USENET is not a file-transferring medium; it's meant for discussion in plain/text and nothing else.

      Who are you to decide that? Usenet is whatever an individual Usenet user decides to do with it.

  • by stuccoguy ( 441799 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @11:43AM (#2243112)
    I am the last person that would ever condone anything that smelled even remotely like censorship, but from a customer perspective I think this move makes sense.

    When I contract with an ISP I want to be connected to the internet at the highest possible speed and reliability. If the ISP is spending time and money subsidizing usenet or free home pages it makes it even more difficult for them to provide me with the level of service I require. I want my ISP to focus their resources on the service I am paying for and that is connection.

    At the same time, I subscribe to a commercial usenet service and I want them to focus their resources on article completion and retention. If my news service suddenly started offering connectivity to its subscribers without charging additional fees, the news service itself would suffer. Most people would find that unacceptable and yet they expect their ISP to offer commercial quality news service at no additional cost.

    I realize their is a historical backdrop against which most ISPs offer email, home pages and news groups along with connectivity. But the internet market place is evolving and maturing into a more service oriented place. Some things are worth paying for and if you truely value usenet you will subsidize its existence by paying for a premium service.

    On the other hand, if SBC is continuing to offer some binary newsgroups and not others than their move cannot be seen merely as a move to improve quality of service for their customers, but must be seen to some degree as censorship. After all, they had to use some criteria other than cost or quality of service to decide which groups to offer or not.

    Under these circumstances I think that their motive should not be applauded even though it will almost certainly allow them to increase service levels.

    On a closing note, I used to use SCB/PacBell and their service is horrible anyway.

  • clealy, sir, the solution is to create stealth binaries groups. is a good example.

    This is also why people who do bin-cancels are total fuckheads.

  • No great loss (Score:2, Interesting)

    by torgosan ( 141603 )
    As a DSL subscriber to SBC this is no great loss. The binary NG coverage was okay but the fact they cap download speeds at ~30K or so is the real insult; I'll continue to use outside news servers and never miss a beat [no pun inteneded].

  • by tcc ( 140386 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @12:31PM (#2243230) Homepage Journal
    Heh :)

    In my world, inside my head, I thought 90% cutoff was a good thing because I was sure they talked about filtering useless spam in the newsgroups, I've rolled on the floor with joy like stimpy in an episode which I don't remember...

    Then someone outside my world came in and explained to me that the 90% figure was in VOLUME not in # of posts... everything around me turned to grey, as I understood that this would filter the best content (p0rn) and leave only the spamming...everything around me faded, in a dark dark grey...

  • SBC's previous news server ( was very slow, and broken about 20% of the time. Downloading a single article took seconds to tens of seconds. It was so bad I had to drop out of a discussion I started on "comp.std.c++", a low-traffic moderated group, because I couldn't get all the messages in. And this was with a PacBell DSL line. Customers have been complaining loudly about SBC's miserable news service for months.
    (PacBell's miserable service has become a front-page issue in the local papers. The SBC merger has been a disaster.)

  • by sabat ( 23293 )

    I'm telling you -- and the moderators will think I'm just blowing smoke -- that the future of ISPs is that we will make our own.

    After seeing this info about how to lay your own DSL line [], and noticing this (clearly inflammatory but still interesting) piece about wireless grids [], it's becoming obvious to me that we are going to end up building some of the network ourselves. Maybe it'll just be the last mile, or maybe we'll be building a nice, humble network to replace the original internet -- a net on which we are not beholden to corporate and government evil.

  • by zgeist ( 518921 ) <> on Saturday September 01, 2001 @01:04PM (#2243294)
    I'm an sbc internet subscriber and for the most part very happy with my DSL line. I was shocked, though, when I switched to the new news server and saw that almost all the alt.binaries groups were gone. The email was very misleading about just how extensive this was going to be. I'm not really angry about the situation - once upon a time I worked in a small ISP that became part of a large ISP and then got bought out by an even larger Japanese Telecom giant. I fully understand the decision from an operations standpoint -providing full access USENET service is expensive, time consuming, and hard, from a legal standpoint - you can claim common carrier all you want but the DMCA opens the door to all sorts of problems from Entertainment industry lawyers, and from a business standpoint - hardly any of your customers care about news groups, much less binary groups so why bother to offer an expensive service when your customers will be just as happy with a cheap one. Hey, if your an SBC customer and not interested in binary groups you ought to be happy that they made this choice. By all rights, the news service should be better now than ever before. The only thing that really bothers me is the censorship angle because despite all of my business experience and appreciation for anyone, including mega corporations, wanting to make a buck, I still think there are some things more important than money. Or maybe I just want my porn, who knows. In any event, I'll by subscribing to a dedicated USENET provider not only because I want my porn, because I do want my porn, but because it's important to support companies who provide full access to all Internet resources.
  • by SMWinnie ( 193301 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @01:06PM (#2243297)
    The law has changed fairly recently for ISPs with regard to the material they carry. A distinction has always been drawn between a common carrier (the post office isn't responsible for your hate mail; the phone company isn't responsible for your threatening calls) and another provider that has more control over the material.

    The only case I know of that hits the issue head on is ALS Scans v. RemarQ, from the Fourth Circuit.

    It's a good read. Flip through it and watch Judge Niemeyer try unsuccessfully to understand Usenet...
  • by Archfeld ( 6757 ) <> on Saturday September 01, 2001 @02:28PM (#2243479) Journal
    There service has GONE way down hill in the last 6 months. I've been a dsl customer for almost 28 months and since the prodigy merger things really SUCK. My line is slower, support IS EVEN MORE CLUELESS, and the things that used to function no longer DO. I have switched over to Astound cable, no Static IP but they answer the phone and actually follow up on calls. PacBell service is the WORST in ANY company I've ever dealt with in ANY field. I would rank them right up there with the IRS and the DMV. For your own sanity and protection, STAY AWAY FROM PACBELL.
  • by SomeoneYouDontKnow ( 267893 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @02:32PM (#2243490)

    FYI, this isn't limited to Pac Bell. I got a notice on July 27 that SW Bell is also doing this. The exact same message, in fact.

    Which brings me to a question. How is it that I submitted this info on that date (7/27), and it was rejected for posting as an article here, but it gets posted today, over a month later. I realize Slashdot gets a lot of submissions, but still. If whether something gets accepted or rejected is based on chance, as it appears to be, what's the point in submitting?

  • Why would anyone be surprised by this, given the language in the DMCA that makes any copy in RAM of a protected work actionable? It only makes sense that big ISP's are going to want to avoid the liability of putting the alt.binaries.* stuff, very much of which is illegal copies of copyrighted material, into the memory of their servers. You'd think most ISP's would be doing this actually.
  • I have this service and recently switched to the new server. Most of the binary groups are indeed gone but not all of them. You would think that they would turn off the ones that had the most traffic or maybe didn't specialize in pirated material, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

    I'm seeing groups missing like the entire alt.binaries.multimedia.erotica.* heirarchy, which isn't suprising since those groups have huge amounts of traffic, but other groups that also have huge amounts of traffic still remain.

    For instance, right now I'm seeing these groups still available:

    All of which are 99% pirated material and all of which are extremely high volume groups.

    I wonder if maybe someone at SBC has an interest in free movies and games. Who sets the standard?
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday September 01, 2001 @04:28PM (#2243707) Homepage
    For years on end the discussion has come up about usenet news and all the piracy and such. For as many years, ISPs who host news services have been looked upon as "common carrier" services and are not required to censor. There have been rulings in the past regarding that responsibility and ISPs have historically won all of these based on their status as a common carrier.

    I have also read that if they take ANY measure to censor, then they remove their rights to claim the status as a common carrier. This means if people simply create new news groups in order to slip the material through more easily, any given copyright holder can then hold the ISP responsible for letting it through.

    If I was a lawyer, I wouldn't be here... so much for that disclaimer.

    So is it possible that now they are not to be considered a common carrier and will be therefore liable for the information that passes through their servers? Or instead because their approach is to simply block "known channels" that they can maintain the common carrier status that has historically protected them? Any legal experts want to field this one?
  • You know, in a way, this defeats the
    purpose of the alt.binaries groups, which
    exist mainly to keep the stuff that floods
    the alt.* groups from flooding the more
    mainstream news hierarchies instead .

    This will perform the marvellous feat
    of getting the copyrighted material out of
    the alt. groups and into rec.arts where they
    really, really aren't wanted. Thank
    you, Pacbell.

  • Not censorship... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <> on Saturday September 01, 2001 @05:17PM (#2243822) Homepage
    ...they HAVE to do this, folks.

    You should be bitching at the legislature that created the DMCA and passed it, and the courts that are ruling that the ISP's can be sued for the copyright violations.

    And even then, you're sucking wind, because the alt.binaries newsgroups alone require something like two T1s worth of bandwidth alone to provide, and don't make a *DIME* of income for the ISPs.

    So which choice should they make:

    1) Start charging for Usenet access.
    2) Stop providing Usenet access at all.
    3) Drop alt.binaries in whole or in part, so that the rest of Usenet can be kept for a reasonable retention period at a reasonable cost.

    They're not blocking outbound access on port 119, they're just declining to devote 3Mb/S of bandwidth and (150GB * number of days retention) to providing a service that 99% of their users don't even use, and a large number of the remaining 1% don't get from them anyway.

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler