Changes in ISP Usenet Policies (2008)

From Usenet Big-8 Management Board


Who decided to restrict access to alt.* groups?

  • According to NY Stop Child Porn (2008-08-30), "the following ISPs have signed agreements with the Attorney General's Office to stop online child pornography":
Service Provider Change in policy
Access Highway
AOL dropped Usenet in 2005
AT&T Internet Services dropping Usenet entirely (15-July-2009)
BlueLight Internet
Clarity Connect
Cloud Nine
Comcast dropping Usenet entirely
Covad Broadband Service
Sprint dropping alt.* groups?
Time Warner Cable (Road Runner) dropping Usenet entirely
United Online
Verizon Dropping all of Usenet 2009-09-30
WINC Communications

What kind of changes have been made in ISP policies?

  • "Time Warner Cable said it will cease to offer customers access to any Usenet newsgroups" (CNET News).
  • "Sprint said it would no longer offer any of the tens of thousands of alt.* Usenet newsgroups" (CNET News).
  • Verizon's plan is to eliminate some "fairly broad newsgroup areas" (CNET News)--Verizon will provide only newsgroups in the Big-8 plus its own hierarchy.
  • AT&T will cease offering the alt.binaries.* hierarchy.
  • Comcast is rumored to be dropping all newsgroups.
  • AOL was included in Cuomo's press release, but stopped offering Usenet access three years ago. It will continue to remove images and [materials] identified as child-porn offenders by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Why did they do that?

  • Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General of New York, hopes that it will reduce the circulation of child pornography (CNET News).

Were there no other alternatives?

  • The companies perhaps could have fought the issue in court. You'll have to ask them why they chose not to make that investment of time and money.
  • It is possible to filter Usenet feeds to strip out binaries, leaving just the text of the messages. To date (2008-08-30) we have not heard of any ISP choosing this option.
  • The news administrators could also edit their own circulation lists to remove just those newsgroups identified by the Attorney General as carrying child pornography (fewer than 100 groups). Some may, in fact, have taken this approach.

Does this mean that I cannot access alt.os.linux.suse?

  • Yes, it means that you cannot use an affected News Service Providers (NSP) to access that newsgroup or any other newsgroup whose name begins with "alt".
  • No, it means that you must use some other NSP if you want to continue to read that newsgroup.

Did the Big-8 have anything to do with the decision?

  • No. The Big-8 Management Board has no control over the decision made by Verizon, Time Warner Road Runner, Sprint, or any other internet service providers about what newsgroups (if any) they wish to provide for their customers. The Board does not belong to any of these corporations nor was it consulted in any way about their recent decision to cease carrying some or all Usenet newsgroups.

Does the Big-8 get paid by any of the NSPs?

  • No.

Does Verizon get paid by the Big-8?

  • No.

Does the Big-8 get paid by anybody?

  • No.

Am I being charged extra for access to the Big-8?

  • No.

Am I being charged for something I didn't order?

  • No.

What if I don't want to subscribe to any Big-8 newsgroups?

  • You're all set. You will never see any of them unless you configure a news reader so that you can see them.

Can you unsubscribe me from the Big-8?

  • No. "No one else can take a bath for you." If you do not configure a news reader to access newsgroups, you will never see any newsgroups. If you have configured a news reader to access newsgroups, it is up to you to decide which newsgroups you read.
  • There is absolutely nothing the Big-8 Management Board can do to change your terms of service with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or modify what your ISP charges you for the service it provides.
    • The Big-8 Management Board is not part of any commercial ISP or NSP.
    • The Big-8 Management Board does not work for any commercial ISP or NSP.
    • The Big-8 Management Board does not report to any commercial ISP or NSP.
    • The Big-8 Management Board had nothing to do with Andrew Cuomo's decision.
    • The Big-8 Management Board is not charging you for anything. (We don't charge anybody for anything.)

Have I been subscribed to the Big-8 against my will?

  • No. Most ISPs used to provide access to more newsgroups than they do now. You may have had access to the Big-8 as part of your internet package. In the past, you may also have had access to alt.* groups. The affected ISPs have not added a new service; they have restricted the services that they used to offer.

Is the Big-8 censoring the rest of (the) Usenet?

  • No. The eight hierarchies are independent of other Usenet hierarchies.

Aren't you ashamed of yourselves for cooperating in censorship?

  • That is a bad question that cannot be answered either yes or no. We are not "cooperating" in any way with the change in policies of various ISPs and NSPs. Our sole task is to take care of the canonical list of newsgroups contained in the Big-8 hierarchies.
  • The Big-8 Management Board has no control whatsoever over the alt.* hierarchy nor over the policies of News Service Providers with respect to whether they carry alt.* or any other Usenet newsgroups.

Why is it called the "Big-8" when you are such a small part of Usenet?

  • In 1986-1987, this collection of hierarchies was "big" indeed. The name has stuck for lack of a better way to describe the set of groups that emerged from the Great Renaming.

What is the difference between alt.* and the Big-8?

How can I connect to the alt.* groups that I want to read?

Is it possible to access from Verizon?

  • In one sense, yes. If Verizon is your Internet Service Provider (ISP), then when you get a real newsreader, you will be using that newsreader on the Verizon system.
  • In another sense, no. You will not be getting the newsgroups "through" Verizon's pages or support software.

Did the ISPs kill these alt.* groups? Are they all gone?

  • No and no.
  • All that the ISPs did was to eliminate access to these groups through their own news server (which they have a right to do). You cannot access them through the affected ISPs but they still exist and can be accessed by using other news service providers.

How can Verizon customers participate the Big-8 newsgroups?

  • Set the NNTP server in your newsreader to
  • Put your Verizon user name and password in the appropriate fields.
  • Or use Google Groups.
  • Or ask Verizon for help.

How can I access the Microsoft Public Newsgroups?

Can you create Big-8 newsgroups on the same topics as alt.*?

Who hosts a newsgroup?

  • Unlike web sites, newsgroups are not located on any particular host computer. Each News Service Provider (NSP) decides what groups to carry. For each group carried, the NSP receives new posts from its partners and passes new posts on to them using the [[wp>NNTP|Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP)]].
  • In other words, a newsgroup is not a web site. The content of newsgroups (new posts) gets carried from one NNTP server to another.

How does a newsgroup end up on a News Service Provider's list of available newsgroups?

Can you force these companies to change their Usenet policies?

  • No.

Can you force my ISP to carry new Big-8 newsgroups?

  • No.

So what good is the Big-8 Management Board if it can't control what happens on Usenet?

  • We add and subtract newsgroups from our official list of Big-8 newsgroups. News administrators who want to follow that list may do so; news administrators who do not wish to follow that list may choose not to follow it.
  • We add groups through a discussion process outlined here.

So all you do is publish a list?

  • Yes.

And you call that "management"?

  • Yes.

Do you expect me to be impressed by that?

  • No.

Is this FAQ ever going to end?

  • Yes.