It’s like being in hell, only it’s virtual

05Oct09

I got an alarming text message this weekend from a friend: “… your email isn’t working and has been down for a few days.”

As it turns out, my email is just fine. It’s my poor friend who has been arbitrarily blocked.

It appears my Internet service provider (ISP), has decided that my friend’s address looks like it might be suspect. (Never mind that my friend runs a legitimate business and has never sent spam.)

“Surely this can be resolved with a quick email,” I thought. Oh, mais non.

It’s not good enough for me to contact my ISP and tell them that I really, really want to receive my friend’s emails. There’s a whole laborious process my friend has to follow if he ever wants to correspond with me again—and even so, it may not work.

What’s alarming is that this is not an isolated case. While researching my problem, I found plenty of evidence that some ISPs are engaged in a passive-aggressive slugfest of blocking each others’ customers. To wit, here’s an excerpt from one blog post I encountered:

Various ISPs are implementing email blocking policies that are not based upon any proven abuse. For example, MSN (and Hotmail) are blocking Yahoo groups for “policy reasons.” … TDS Telecom is blocking Earthlink and Mindspring email. … On January 8, Earthlink and Mindspring joined the blockage of Yahoo groups.”

To say that I’m angry is a comical understatement. I’ve wasted two hours of my life that I’ll never get back, on a problem I probably can’t resolve. I’m furious my ISP is capriciously denying me a service I’m paying for only because it doesn’t like the looks of someone’s email address.

But aside from my own petty woes, I also think this issue has implications beyond the occasional missed message. Our democracy depends on the free flow of information. There would be an uproar if our government were deciding which messages we get to receive. Is it really any different when a corporation is doing the same?

Maybe it’s time to drop a little note to my state attorney general and the Federal Communications Commission (assuming their servers don’t block my message, of course).

And maybe it’s also time to shop for a new ISP.



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