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How Comcast Censors Political Content


How Comcast Censors Political Content
Or Why My Comcast Horror Story Is Better Than Yours
By David Swanson

Most Comcast internet customers seem to have horror stories, but in my humble opinion this one is a doozie and may even suggest threats to freedom of speech more significant than the jailing of a court stenographer.

I'm working on a campaign headquartered at www.afterdowningstreet.org that seeks to draw attention to the Downing Street Minutes and to lobby Congress to open an investigation into whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. According to a recent Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans favor impeachment proceedings if the President lied about the reasons for war, and according to a recent ABC News / Washington Post poll, 52 percent think he did. But this story is nowhere to be found in the corporate media. So, our website attracts a lot of traffic.

In addition, July 23rd is the three-year anniversary of the meeting on Downing Street that produced the now infamous minutes, and we are organizing events all over the country on that day. Or, we're trying to. But we noticed about a week ago that everyone working on this campaign was having strange Email problems. Some people would get Emails and some wouldn't, or they'd receive some but not others. Conference calls were worse than usual (I can't stand the things anyway) because half the people wouldn’t get the info and know where to call in. Organizing by internet is super easy, but when you have to follow up every Email with a phone call to see if someone got it, it becomes super frustrating. Volunteers have been complaining all over the country – especially now that we've figured out what the problem was and they know what to complain about.

We didn't know it, but for the past week, anyone using Comcast has been unable to receive any Email with "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of the Email. That has included every Email from me, since that was in my signature at the bottom of every Email I sent. And it included any Email linking people to any information about the upcoming events.

From the flood this evening of Emails saying "Oh, so that's why I haven't heard anything from you guys lately," it seems clear that we would have significantly more events organized by now for the 23rd if not for this block by Comcast.

Disturbingly, Comcast did not notify us of this block. It took us a number of days to nail down Comcast as the cause of the problems, and then more days, working with Comcast's abuse department to identify exactly what was going on. We'd reached that point by Thursday, but Comcast was slow to fix the problem.

During the day on Friday we escalated our threats to flood Comcast's executives with phone calls and cancellations, and we gave them deadlines. Friday evening, Comcast passed the buck to Symantec. Comcast said that Symantec's Bright Mail filter was blocking the Emails, and that Symantec refused to lift the block, because they had supposedly received 46,000 complaints about Emails with our URL in them. Forty-six thousand! Of course, Symantec was working for Comcast, and Comcast could insist that they shape up, or drop them. But Comcast wasn't interested in doing that.

Could we see two or three, or even one, of those 46,000 complaints? No, and Comcast claimed that Symantec wouldn't share them with Comcast either.

By the time Comcast had passed the buck to the company that it was paying to filter its customers Emails, Brad Blog had posted an article about the situation and urged people to complain to Comcast.
http://www.bradblog.com/archives/00001602.htm

Brad quickly added Symantec phone numbers to the story on his website, and we called Symantec's communications department, which fixed the problem in a matter of minutes.

So, why does this matter?

Comcast has a near monopoly on high-speed internet service in much of this country, including much of the Washington, D.C., area. Many members of the media and many people involved in politics rely on it. Three days ago, I almost decided to put a satellite dish on my roof. There's no other way for me to get high-speed internet, unless I use Comcast.

Comcast effectively censors discussion of particular political topics, and impedes the ability of people to associate with each other, with absolutely no compulsion to explain itself. There is no due process. A phrase or web address is tried and convicted in absentia and without the knowledge of those involved.

Now, did Comcast do this because it opposes impeaching the President? I seriously doubt it. Apparently the folks at Symantec did this, and Comcast condoned it. But why?

Well, we have no evidence to suggest that these 46,000 complaints actually exist, but we can be fairly certain that if they do, they were generated by someone politically opposed to our agenda. There's simply no possible way that we've accidentally annoyed 46,000 random people with stray Emails and mistyped addresses. We've only been around for a month and a half, and we haven't spammed anyone. In fact, during the course of trying to resolve the problem, Comcast assured us that they knew we hadn't spammed anyone. And once we'd gotten Symantec's attention, they didn't hesitate to lift the block.

But it had taken serious pressure to find out what the problem was and who to ask for a remedy. We only solved this because we could threaten a flood of negative attention.

This state of affairs means that anyone who wants to stifle public and quasi-private discussion of a topic can quite easily do so by generating numerous spam complaints. The victims of the complaints will not be notified, made aware of the accusations against them, or provided an opportunity to defend themselves. And if the complaints prove bogus, there will be absolutely no penalty for having made them.

And this won't affect only small-time information sources. If the New York Times or CNN attempts to send people Email with a forbidden phrase, it won't reach Comcast customers or customers of any ISP using the same or similar filtering program.

And there is no public list posted anywhere of which phrases are not permitted. This is a Kafkan world. This is censorship as it affects a prisoner who sends out letters and does not know if they will reach the recipient or be destroyed.

What if I had tried to Email someone about a serious health emergency during the past week, but they had been using Comcast and I had been including the address of my website in my Email signature? Is this not a safety issue?

Above all, though, this is a First Amendment issue, as is well laid out in this excerpt of a statement released today by People-Link.org, the organization hosting the www.afterdowningstreet.org site:

"This goes far beyond the normal anti-spam measures taken by major providers and represents an effective blocking of constitutionally protected expression and the fundamental right to organize and act politically on issues of concern.

"Most spam blocking measures focus on the email address or the IP address of the suspected spammer. While there are anti-spam measures directed at the body of the email, these usually target attachments that could contain virus programs.

"Targeting the inclusion of a website url can only have one outcome: that communications about that website and the issue it is presenting will be blocked from large numbers of people and that the communications from that site's administrators and the campaign's organizers will not reach their full constituency.

"Whether Comcast's intention or not, this is effectively political and unconstitutional.

"It keeps people from getting valuable information about a campaign that is, in the opinion of many, critical to the future of this country's political system.

"It disrupts the organizing of this campaign and cripples the campaign's ability to use its most effective communications tool: the Internet.

"It damages people's confidence in this campaign since many people who write the campaign can't receive the response they expect and that the campaign has sent.

"Perhaps the worst part of this development is that Comcast has been reportedly doing this without the knowledge of the managers of this website or anyone affiliated with this campaign. In fact, no Comcast customer has received any indication that email to him or her containing this url was blocked."

____________________________

DAVID SWANSON is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997.

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altho i am against any censorship, this brings to mind another question: when i sign up with an ISP provider, and using their email system, am i not bound by their rules and regulations? Afterall, each ISP is a privately owned business and has the right to set what standards they feel is right for their business. Everyone should read the fine print BEFORE signing up with any ISP provider instead of looking at the monthly price.

If you decide that Comcast or any other ISP service is not up to what you feel is right for you, you have the option to drop them and seek another. No different than if you went into a restaurant and didn't like it if they made you say prayers before your dinner...you simply get up and leave without returning.

If ComCast has done this once, it will surely happen again. If Symantec has done this becuase of alleged complaints, it will do so again. However, Symantec should also be aware that some political organizations spend countless hours providing alleged "complaints" to further a political cause and, should react accordingly. 46,000 is hardly a drop in the bucket compared to the number of people using Symantec products and services. Perhaps Symantec over-reacted or perhaps they have a political agenda and support certain political parties....who knows?

I'd be hesitant to continue service with Comcast and if enough people dropped their service, they would put the pressure on Symantec to lighten up on the political censorship crap.

Again, ISP providers are NOT public busnesses and do have the right to set their rules and regulations...always read the fine print or simply ask before signing an agreement.

You said: "Everyone should read the fine print BEFORE signing up with any ISP provider instead of looking at the monthly price."

Can you imagine a TOS statement that includes the right to censor email based on politics?

That would be much too similar to China's censorship for me, and that's not the America that I love.

The following is a letter I sent to Comcast immediately after reading the article on CommonDreams.org.

My name is Michael Bonanno. I live in Antioch, CA. I’ve had Comcast high speed internet since 2002 or so.

When the suffix went from .com to .net, there were some glitches in the conversion that somewhat aggravated me in the beginning. However at the time, while you were attempting to create a customer base, you were very good about offering guidance and information to your customers.

Of course, since then your service has been all but perfect. I appreciate this customer care.

Of course, there’s more to customer care than making sure that the process works technically.

I’ve just finished reading “How Comcast Censors Political Content Or Why My Comcast Horror Story Is Better Than Yours

Michael, I can't count the number of disassociated responses I've received over the years that were similar to the one you received from Comcast. I think "playing dumb" when responding to customer questions is part of many business' MO. I'd bet that they count on most people to give up after getting such an inane reply.

The following is a letter I sent to Comcast immediately after reading the article on CommonDreams.org.

My name is Michael Bonanno. I live in Antioch, CA. I’ve had Comcast high speed internet since 2002 or so.

When the suffix went from .com to .net, there were some glitches in the conversion that somewhat aggravated me in the beginning. However at the time, while you were attempting to create a customer base, you were very good about offering guidance and information to your customers.

Of course, since then your service has been all but perfect. I appreciate this customer care.

Of course, there’s more to customer care than making sure that the process works technically.

I’ve just finished reading

I really don't know how my reply was double posted. I'm sorry for that.

Please remove one of the two.

Thanks in advance.

To friendship,
Michael

your problem with comecast come directly from SYMANTEC
You will find that part of this company have been bought by a security firm. this is directly from their activity where you will find actors, responsible for manipulating facts, thus it prooves that they monitor content of your emails.
i have found personaly that norton utility was able to communicate information to this company so that's why i am absolutly not surprise to what happen. This show particulary the role of those "security firms".

" i have found personaly that norton utility was able to communicate information to this company "

Prove it. Tell us *WHAT* information. Then tell us how you know, and what steps we can take with a copy of their software to see it for ourselves.

If you can't do that, you must have been lying.

I recorded the comunication from Norton Utilities in my machine
to an IP adress wich was not Norton but a private security company.
I noticed later this company has bought shares of Norton.

I am looking in my archives if i have the exact date time and ip adress.
I won't tell you that other way.

i was able to do that recording with aport software wich gave me a report.

use this very basic software if you want to be able to see the various process in your machine and the communications opened with other computers on various ports.

i started inquiring about that because i was suspicious when i found kind of shortcuts linking to special IP apearing as other machine in my network.

"The space at www.comcast.net is purchased space, which we do not control once bought unless the posting does not meet with federal or FCC guidelines."

1) Comcast can refuse advertising from whomever they wish.

2) The FCC has *nothing* to do with Comcast.

I've been hosting my own email since 1991. These days I host email
and Web service for about a hundred domains, on my own three servers
which I built and maintain. I know more about how the email system
works than most of your friends. I'm at liberty to tell you more
than any trade press or mass media technology pundit.

I really doubt Comcast or its offshore outsourced spam control
contractor is even aware of afterdowningstreet.org. I can make
an educated guess about what really happened.

There are two kinds of Internet service provider (ISP).
Comcast is the kind whose target audience is consumers seeking
entertainment. They're the Walmart of Internet access. Their #1
goal is low cost. They're in a "broadband" price war with the incumbent
phone companies. They outsource everything they can. They bust
unions. They've laid off everybody who knew anything about how to
run an Internet Protocol (IP) network or an email server,
because they cost too much or they didn't toe the bust unions line. Their network is running on automatic pilot.
they don't even have a map of it any more.

Every one of this kind of ISP has a real problem with spam coming
out of its networks. That's because they spend millions filtering
incoming spam, but they starve their department that was supposed
to control the spam its own customers send. (Imagine a lake or
circular river, with cities along it that compete with each other
for the best drinking water filtration, but refuse to spend a
nickel treating the raw sewage they dump into the common water
supply. That's Comcast and SBC and Verizon and Road Runner...)
And that's where about 95% of spam comes from today.

The other kind of ISP serves businesses, schools, other ISPs, and
discerning consumers and nonprofits. They charge a little more,
advertise a lot less, and generally try to do things right.

If you really don't care whether your email gets through, nor
whether you receive all the legitimate email that was sent to you,
then you can afford to entrust your mailbox to Comcast or Verizon
or Yahoo Mail or Hotmail or Shaw or Wanadoo. The only people I know
like that are children, who only use email to trade idle gossip.
That's all the email service from those big consumer ISPs is good for.

But if you are doing real work using email, you're foolish to trust your mailbox to the Walmarts of email service.

Take personal responsibility for your own email.
You don't have to self-host the way I did in '91.
You don't have to get rid of your bargain high-speed Internet link.
But you do have to choose a professional grade of email service
provider, and it will probably cost a little extra money.

The bad news is you have to get off your butt and do something you
just hate doing, because it's "technical" and only "geeks" and "nerds"
do things like that. Well, stop thinking about it that way.
Taking control of your email is no different than taking control of
any other aspect of your life away from the corporate empire.
It's an act of resistance, defiance. And it feels really good.

Shop around for a responsible email provider. The "premium" account
at Mail.com (about $3/month) might be good enough. Maybe you're
not using the email service that came with your shared Web-hosting
at a well-run place like Pair.com or Dreamhost.com. Maybe you're
computer-literate, and the "free" account at Freeshell.org
($1 setup fee, 20 MB mailbox) or the "arpa" account ($35 setup, 100 MB)
is perfect.
Maybe you're a whiz at point-and-click but not comfortable with
traditional computer user interfaces, and the excellent email
service from Riseup.net is just what you need.
Maybe you registered a vanity domain at Godaddy.com
or GKG.net and never bothered to set up the mailbox service you're
paying for with that registration. Maybe you know somebody like
myself who runs a reliable email server in his kitchen who will host
your mailbox for a homecooked meal every few months.
Nobody can make this decision but you.

And tell your friends. Using Comcast and Yahoo email service is
not okay, for both ethical and competence reasons.
Would you buy tools from Walmart to work on your car?
Would you buy Playskool tools there to work on your car?
Why not? Same reasons apply here. You need real tools to do real work.
Friends don't let friends depend on schlock email.
(Friends don't let friends drive Microsoft, either, but that's
another essay...)

In my professional opinion as an email administrator and IT volunteer
to peace groups, what really happened to afterdowningstreet.org's
email was this. Afterdowningstreet.org's many friends and fans
promoted the Web site in emails to all their friends, and maybe some
Usenet or Web forum postings. This attracted the attention of the
semi-organized Internet right wing hate-radio crowd. If you read the
Usenet politics or environment groups you know exactly who I'm
talking about. A handful of these political vigilantes sent a
handful of complaints to Comcast or Comcast's spam contractor,
who handles these complaints with a ridiculously simple
software program,
and afterdowningstreet.org was automatically entered
into Comcast's email content filtration system.
Maybe a few of Afterdowningstreet's more overzealous fans
actually spammed. International A.N.S.W.E.R. spams, and so does
Moveon.org, so it's hardly beyond plausibility.

So there are two things you can do.

1. Complain about how shlocky Comcast's email service is.
This will get you exactly noplace. Comcast knows how shlocky
Comcast's email service is. It's that bad on purpose.

2. Start moving yourself and your friends to competent, reliable,
socially responsible email providers. You're going to have to
do it sooner or later, because consumer grade email is becoming
completely unusable. It's already unusable in South Korea and
Brazil, where the whole country got Internet access overnight and
nobody told them spamming was harmful, and the cable companies
are even worse than the ones in the US.
While you're at it, get off that dangerous piece of crap
MS-Outlook Express before it gets your identity stolen.
Try Thunderbird instead.

Best,
Cameron in San José

Don't forget that Comcast and other providers (especially Cable) often block all outgoing SMTP traffic (port 25).

That means that even if I have my own server, I cannot send mail out unless I find a relay which uses slightly a different protocol than the one being censored (or banned by the Terms of Service). And open relays are magnets for spam, which means that if one of these was set up to support political freedom, it would almost immediately get blacklisted as an open relay unless steps were taken to ensure it was not being used to send spam.

And don't forget that ISP's Terms of Service often forbid running servers of any kind, such as to receive email, unless you pay outrageously high monthly rates for business accounts (such as $150/month).

Even if email is allowed to go out, providers often limit the number of emails that a person can send out in a specified period time to ridiculously low levels, on the assumption that more than a certain number of emails per hour is definitely spam. Many mailing list owners have been frustrated by this, when they are not sending anything unsolicited.

Even if relays or proxies can be set up to aid users, it does not correct the underlying problem of censorship by the ISP. There would need to be secure (e.g. SSH, SSL, IPsec) methods of getting to the relays to send messages out without the ISP snooping on them. All of this takes time to learn and set up. PGP has never gotten widespread usage by the general public -- how can we expect SSH to either? (In reviewing smartphones recently, I find it revealing that not a single consumer smartphone on the market comes with a built-in SSH client.)

And there's nothing to stop the ISP from blocking all but a certain kind of outgoing traffic -- even SSH can be blocked. P2P has gotten around a lot of these limitations -- witness Freenet. More development in this area is needed.

Something needs to fundamentally change about the way we teach people how to use the internet. We have to teach them the difference between the WWW and the internet (many don't know the difference). We should have Internet History / Computer History courses in schools, as well as introductions to networking, such as TCP/IP. Otherwise our suggestions will draw blank stares from all but the most technical.

I witnessed this kind of censorship 3 years ago with Comcast, when I sent email to someone @comcast containing a link to a web page critical of Comcast. It never got received. So this is kind of old news.

If companies are intent on providing spam-reducing features to their customers, their spam filters should label spam with headers, but should never block it. It should be the responsibility of the user to decide how to filter their spam. If you currently receive spam-filtering services from your ISP, you should ask them to mark spam, but not filter it themselves. Or you should learn to do it yourself, with tools such as SpamAssassin.

People should buy their own domains, so that they have email address portability independent of their ISP, and so they can create as many aliases as they want. Then if they get screwed by an ISP, they can switch ISPs and still keep their email address.

I boycott Cable TV and Cable Internet because of their practices. In general, DSL is more open and end-to-end than Cable, so if DSL is in your area, please choose it instead of Cable.

OMG, conspiracy freaks anyone? Hey I have tinfoil hats for sale! Just e-mail me at "mylifesuxso@iInventconspiracys.abb

Where do I start? Both comcast and Symantec are corporations. They provide you a service on their terms, read the user agreement that you quickly scrolled thru when you signed up. You are paying a monthly fee to use said service that they offered you on their terms! If you don't like it, Leave them. The only way a corporation feels any pain is in the wallet. As far as the Anti war crap, I guess when there is a gutless scumbag terrorist hiding thier face behind a dish towel blowing up your subway station or office tower, Maybe then you will see the light. Sadam was funding these pussies! it has been proven over and over again. So what if there were no WMD's. He needed to be taken down, as does syria, Iran and any other country that harbors these gutless wonders.

Ok, folks, relax for a moment. First, please be aware that afterdowningstreet.org is on a SHARED host. So, there's 10 other domains on the same IP address as your domain. Observe: http://whois.webhosting.info/216.223.198.31

Now, I tried looking up the shared IP in some of the SBLs, but didn't find any.. So it's not blocked currently, but it could have been. Every domain hosted on one specific IP increases the chances of being blacklisted. Did you actually try to email people without "www.aboutdowningstreet.com" in the body of the email?

Also, spam filtering on the body of the message is by no means unusual. I've been doing that on my own personal domain for two years or so now and on my business domain for almost as long. Google does it as well. Spamassasin, a very common and open source spam filter can do this and is used on a large nnumber of domains.

Comcast sucks, but let's not jump to conclusions.

/network admin by day
//tinfoil in the nick does not reference tinfoil hats, so don't get your undies in a knot.

After reading about how the appearance of "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of a message caused Comcast/Symantec/BrighMail to block the message, and Comcast/Symantec's excuse that they are blocking spam, I wonder what is says about Comcast and how it conducts e-mail when I get numerous messages with headers similar to the following, which don't contain a valid Comcast e-mail address for me anywhere (it appears that Comcast, far from trying to protect me from spam, is aiding and abetting it by sending me spam that isn't actually addressed to me):

From - Tue Jul 26 11:08:55 2005
X-UIDL: 20050726150355r18009r4v8e0001k2
X-Mozilla-Status: 0001
X-Mozilla-Status2: 00000000
Received: from cm242.theta19.maxonline.com.sg ([222.165.19.242])
by rwcrmxc18.comcast.net (rwcrmxc18) with SMTP
id <20050726150336r1800nce3fe>; Tue, 26 Jul 2005 15:03:52 +0000
X-Originating-IP: [222.165.19.242]
Received: from iyeyrfj.aural.com (HELO smlvl37) ([74.221.53.87])
(envelope-sender )
by hjiuopz.aural.com (Postfix) with smtp
for ; Tue, 26 Jul 2005 10:03:40 -0600
Message-ID: <9345884453.67924@aural.com>
From: "Gail Flanagan"
To: "Fyom"
Subject: I worry to lachrymose
Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2005 10:03:40 -0600
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: multipart/related;
boundary="----=_Part_26639627_19217681.1179226604432"

" it appears that Comcast, far from trying to protect me from spam, is aiding and abetting it by sending me spam that isn't actually addressed to me "

This is utter paranoid garbage. You're on the Bcc: list of the spam, that's why you don't see your address on the To: line. You should learn how something works before you try and draw conclusions about it.

I don't anything about this specific story, but for many years Comcast has been one of the major origins of spam. They were either the WORST provider in the world or - like TODAY - the SECOND WORST

Top 10 Worst Spam Service ISPs
As at 09 August 2005

1. mci.com
2. comcast.net
3. sbc.com
4. managed.com
5. xo.com
6. rr.com
7. vnn.vn
8. interbusiness.it
9. level3.net
10. twtelecom.net

http://www.spamhaus.org/statistics.lasso

Among spam fighters comcast has been considered completely rogue for many years now and they can tell you that comcast never did anything against their own spammers.

I'm a comcast customer,and I have been permanently banned because I defend our president against liberal bias in the comcast forum City Hall.
comcasts moderators/employees favor liberal bias againt President Bush,and when supporters of the president during wartime defend him,we are attacked by the left wing loonies,and the comcast moderators allow it.
I think it's time the US Secret service and Homeland security investigate comcast forums and shut them down,permanently.I realize Americans have first amendment rights,as well as other rights,with these rights go responsibilty,what if some one irresponsibly misuses their 2nd amendment right,it would cause an outrage,and the any=tigun crowd will demand our second amendment right be circumvented.
If a higspeed internet service was available,I would dump comcast like a bad habit.

I have been a comcast.net customer for 4 years,and I used to read in the comcast help forums,complaints from customers regarding streaming advertisements on the comcast.net homepage,and when I complained to comcast.nets telephone support regarding the streaming advertisements,I was told by the comcast.net employee,"the popup blocker blocks the streaming advertisements",when I advised the comcast.net telephone support employee,"the popup blocker does not block streaming advertisements",he advised me I did not know what I was talking about,that I was stupid.
On several occasions in the comcast.net forums,I advised people what the comcast.net telephone support employees advised me,"if you don't like the service find another IP service",I was permanently banned by comcast employees,moderators,and administrators of the help forums.
Comcast does not like customers who will not kiss their butt,customers who stand up to the comcast constantly bullying of customers,I could tell you things you would find to be disturbing when it comes to comcasts treatment of it's customers.
My suggestion is,send comcast a message,cancel your accounts with comcast and switch to either Dish Network,or Direct TV for cable service,and find another broadband IP provider,comcast is getting to big for their britches when they can dictate to their customers,what they can say,and how they can say it in their forums.

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