Following Xtra’s withdrawal of the Usenet internet news service, a source at TelstraClear, which operates the major rival ISPs, Paradise and ClearNet, says it may either withdraw or significantly trim these services at some time.
A late official comment, however, says the service will be retained "for the foreseeable future".
The conflicting stories come against the background of a five-day collapse of the Usenet service through TelstraClear ISPs, which remains largely unexplained. The theories of the loyal band of regular users who populate the New Zealand news and discussion groups, particularly nz.general, nz.politics and nz.comp, centre on two possibilities; that upstream news providers overseas blocked traffic from TelstraClear servers last month owing to perceived transmission of spam, or that the TelstraClear news server exceeded its monthly quota of traffic from the upstream provider.
One of the telco’s customer help staff, Anthony Thompson, in an emailed response to a help request, has specifically denied the latter theory (offering no comment on the former), but acknowledged that there is some discussion on the future of the news service.
“Our management is still in discussions over whether to continue the service, revamp or offer a cut-down news service,” he wrote, on March 22. “So anything said here is purely speculation at the moment.”
However, a later comment from communications officer Jodine Laing pushes plans for Usenet demise over the horizon.
“We review all our products and services periodically and will review Usenet at some stage,” she says. “For the foreseeable future however the Usenet service will continue to be offered as a value-added service to TelstraClear Internet customers.”
Laing also denies the quota overrun rumour, asserting that there is no quota. “The recent issue …was due to a problem with the Usenet service news feed application which failed. A monitoring system failed to advise of the issue, hence the delay in restarting the service. We are investigating the issue to ensure this does not happen again.”
The Usenet service, also known as NNTP, after the protocol it uses, has been in use since pre-internet bulletin boards were the main ways of spreading news and indulging in discussion. It is still popular with users who prefer simple text communication to community networking systems such as blogs, MySpace and the like.
It is also much abused, of the tens of thousands of “newsgroups” set up to deal with discussion on specific topics, many now contain little but spam. Others are largely given over to exchange of binary files, which are much larger than the text messages the service was originally designed for, and carry all the controversial associations that peer-to-peer file exchange suffers from.
Users have suggested TelstraClear continue the conversational groups but ditch the binary groups, but this may not be possible within the terms of the agreement with the upstream provider.
When Xtra discontinued Usenet service, in May last year, it pleaded mounting cost and the dwindling population of regular users, which it put only in the hundreds.
Both ISPs say Usenet access is provided “free of charge”, a point on which many users differ; since news traffic is counted against their capped data volume allowance, they say, they’re paying for it as surely as they are for web access and email.