Ever have one of those days when your paranoid fear seems to be happening. You know, like the guy behind you in the dark suit and mirror shades really seems to be following you?
Yesterday, just after the Senate Commerce Committee voted to delay debate on net neutrality and program access until next week, my emails to Comcast subscribers started bouncing. The bounce message informed me I was permanently blacklisted [i.e., blocked] as a “spam source.”
A nefarious plot to keep this terribly effective and persuasive advocate from reaching The People in time to effect the Commerce Committee vote? The first step in making me an “unperson?”
Probably not, given that it got straightened out reasonably quickly and — lets face it — would do Comcast more harm than good. But it was sufficiently unsettling that I have to ask again, even more strongly than before, why would we want to live in a world where Comcast or any other provider has no need to fix the problem, because we’ve eliminated all the rules?
Full story below . . . .
I have a friend who subscribers to Comcast’s broadband service. We were exchanging email messages as usual when, around 5:30 p.m., I started getting this bounce message:
The original message was received at Thu, 22 Jun 2006 17:27:33 -0400 (EDT)
from localhost.his.com [127.0.0.1]
—– The following addresses had permanent fatal errors —–
(reason: 550-220.127.116.11 blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net)
—– Transcript of session follows —–
…. while talking to gateway-s.comcast.net.:
>>> MAIL From:
<<< 550-18.104.22.168 blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net
<<< 550 Blocked for abuse. Please send blacklist removal requests to firstname.lastname@example.org - Be sure to include your mail server IP ADDRESS.
554 5.0.0 Service unavailable
Reporting-MTA: dns; vhost107.his.com
Received-From-MTA: DNS; localhost.his.com
Arrival-Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 17:27:33 -0400 (EDT)
Final-Recipient: RFC822; email@example.com
Diagnostic-Code: SMTP; 550-22.214.171.124 blocked by ldap:ou=rblmx,dc=comcast,dc=net
Last-Attempt-Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 17:27:33 -0400 (EDT)
[rest of email, simply a copy of the original email and headers, snipped for privacy]
A few more tests to my friend and Comcast subscribers in other parts of the country yielded similar results. Email from a different account (but using the same machine) did not bounce.
Coincidentally, the Senate Commerce Committee had just finished a first round mark up of the Stevens bill and had announced it wouldn’t get to network neutrality and program access until Tuesday. Was this a plot to keep me (and possibly other advocates) from reaching The People in time to influence the vote? If it were a “mistake” corrected after the vote, the damage would be done and I would have no legal recourse. The net neutrality and program access provisions are worth billions of dollars to Comcast (and other cable cos). I know activists from other countries who have been harrased and “disappeared” over less? Wait, what were those shadows out by the car! Oh…bad kitty! Bad Quantum! No pretending to be a pipe bomb! Bad girl.
Taking firm hold of my incipient paranioa, I emailed the blacklist removal request to the address indicated above. I also went to a nearby friend and Comcast subscriber to do some testing. After all, if this was a nefarious plot to squelch The Truth, other (arguably more effective) websites should be experiencing blocking or degredation of service.
Surfing via my friend’s connection on her machine, I found no problems accessing various websites. Savetheinternet.com came up as quickly as Hands Off the Internet. My employer’s website, www.mediaaccess.org, came up as quickly as that of other orgs. Even Wetmachine.com and TotSF, that vehicle of insurrection against the power of Big Media and Corporate Gatekeepers everywher, came up fast and ready to read.
Logging back into my mail via webmail, I saw the following reply from Comcast:
Subject: Comcast.net Blacklist Removal Response
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 20:05:25 -0400
X-Spam-Status: No, score=2.9 required=5.0 tests=DNS_FROM_RFC_POST,DNS_FROM_RFC_WHOIS,MSGID_FROM_MTA_HEADER,NO_REAL_NAME autolearn=disabled version=3.1.3
X-Spam-Checker-Version: SpamAssassin 3.1.3 (2006-06-01) on reserva.snail.net
X-Virus-Scanned: ClamAV 0.88.2/1561/Thu Jun 22 11:40:00 2006 on reserva.snail.net
X-Virus-Scanned: ClamAV 0.88.2/1561/Thu Jun 22 11:40:00 2006 on smtp102.his.com
X-pstn-levels: (S:60.93944/99.90000 R:95.9108 P:95.9108 M:96.8350 C:98.4741 )
X-pstn-settings: 1 (0.1500:0.1500) gt3 gt2 gt1 r p m c
Please do not reply to this message.
This is to notify you that your request for removal from the comcast.net blocklist has been received.
The following IPs were found within your request. Below each one, we’ve included the results of our research.
– 126.96.36.199 –
The IP you previously provided has been removed from the Comcast.net blocklist.
After review of the blocking, the IP you submitted was found to have been blocked due to the fact that the majority of the traffic from that IP contained content indicative of spam. If you are not aware of the traffic that could have caused this, we recommend a review of your outbound mail logs and ensuring that all computers connecting to through the submitted IP are clear of any security exploits.
Comcast Network Abuse and Policy Observance
After a few minutes, I could email my friends subscribing to Comcast again.
So no nefarious scheme. I have no clue what triggered the block in the first place. I also give a tip of the hat to Comcast, which appears to have taken steps since blocking of Afterdowningstreet.org for a week last summer to (a) notify folks when blacklisted and (b) take action quickly to resolve issues.
But, rather like my brush with identity theft, it still leaves me vaguely unsettled. I was glad my credit card company had procedures in place when I discovered someone had managed to get my credit card number, but I also recognized the credit card company has procedures in no small part because the law requires them to allow consumers to dispute charges and prevents credit card companies from just using terms of service to shift all risk to consumers. I’m glad credit card companies make a virtue of necessity and try to make the process as painless for consumers as possible (and advertise this feature). But I don’t delude myself that we can repeal consumer protection laws because the credit card companies have responded so well to them we no longer need them.
No doubt those opposed to NN legislation will look at this incident and say “see, all the fuss is just the usual liberal hyperbole and love of big government.” For myself, I prefer rules in place so that if it happens again, Comcast (or whoever it may be) has incentive to make a virtue of necessity and handle my problem quickly and easily. No offense to Comcast (or any other ISP), but I prefer enforceable rights to reassurances. Or, as Ronald Regan said: “Trust, but verify.”
So if you can still read this 🙂
Stay tuned . . . .