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ISP reaction could spell death of Usenet

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Is this the beginning of the end for Usenet as we know it? Wouldn’t surprise me.

It broke last week that New York’s attorney general had targeted Usenet because of the existence of child pornography. Fair enough, no one wants that. But the reaction by several ISPs could set a dangerous precedent, and could threaten the way Usenet works.

Time Warner, my ISP (for the time being), will no longer carry Usenet at all once the end of the month rolls around. Not just binary groups, the only place where the offending content could be posted (other than plain text links, I suppose), but all of Usenet. That’s a shame, as I learned a good deal from the comp.sys* groups back in the day. No more free movies and so on, either. You’ll still be able to access Usenet through a third-party server like Giganews, but Time Warner will no longer provide access. I wonder if it’ll lower my bill, then?

Verizon will no longer carry the alt.* groups; you’ll only find the Big 8.

Sprint has similarly agreed to curb Usenet access.

Obviously it’s the ISPs’ right to choose what groups it carries and what groups it doesn’t, but this does reek of overreaction.

And to play devil’s advocate, the argument, “Well, then why doesn’t Verizon just block access to the Web, there’s gotta be gross content on that?” Difference is, those files aren’t on Verizon servers, whereas they were on its Usenet servers (allegedly).

Given my advocacy for Usenet this past year, you’d think I’d be more upset than I am. I mean, all I’m losing is access to a few binary groups, groups that can easily be replaced with BitTorrent sites. And I’ll be in another country in about a month’s time, so I have bigger things to worry about.

And as far as the larger speech issue goes, it’s not like these ISPs are preventing you from accessing the service, but rather they’re just no longer providing it. I don’t quite know if that counts as censorship, especially given Google Groups’ existence (anyone remember Deja?).

It sucks, yes, but I think we, as a society, have more important issues to concern ourselves with than whether or not Verizon, as a company, offers access to alt.tv.simpsons.

A nice discussion about this can be found on the comp.sys.mac.system group. I’m sure they’re others, but it’s one that caught my eye as far as groups I regularly visit go.

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