In an example of throwing the bathwater out with the baby, a number of ISPs are dropping the alt.* hierarchy, or Usenet altogether, ostensibly to comply with a demand from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that they rid the Internet of child pornography.
Some observers, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believe that the ISPs are actually making the move to help save money on servers and bandwidth, and are using Cuomo's demand as a convenient excuse.
Verizon and Sprint are taking down the alt.* hierarchy, AT&T will block all alt.binaries.* groups, while Time Warner Cable and AOL are shutting down their Usenet service entirely, the EFF said.
The action was in response to a June ageement between Cuomo and three ISPs after his office threatened charges of fraud and deceptive business practices, because the ISPs told their customers that transmitting child pornography was not allowed but did not enforce it.
While, thus far, only New York is threatening ISPs -- though California is also reportedly working on it -- the companies are dropping the Usenet groups across the country. Verizon and Time Warner Cable are two of the nation’s five largest service providers, with roughly 16 million customers between them, according to the New York Times. Some smaller ISPs -- such as panix.com in the New York area -- still offer Usenet, including the alt.* hierarchy.
The EFF said that while the New York investigation had found 88 newsgroups with child pornography, it was only 0.5% of the 19,000-group alt.* hierarchy. Previous attempts at controlling pornography, such as the 1996 Communications Decency Act and the 1998 Child Online Protection Act, were struck down by the Supreme Court on free speech grounds. But because the current efforts are considered "voluntary," a court challenge is unlikely, the EFF continued.
Usenet was established in 1980 to enable users on computers to exchange information with each other on a batch basis using "news software," and before the Web was developed, it was the primary public communications method. By volume of data transmitted, it is still widely used. Because Usenet isn't dependent on a single server, it has historically been a robust way of making information available to a wide variety of people.