Xtra says its withdrawal of the Usenet newsgroup service from May 3 is motivated simply by the cost of continuing the service and the comparatively small number of customers — Xtra says “a few hundred” — still using it on a regular basis.
Many users of local Usenet news and discussion forums, such as nz.general, nz.comp and nz.politics, are up in arms about the move, which they see as the beginning of the death of a medium which has been extremely useful. Others however, have shrugged their shoulders and put it down to the “progress” of an increasingly web-oriented internet.
Some browsers and programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, will read Usenet groups, but frequent posters use a specialised newsreader program such as Forte Agent.
There are a number of overseas news-servers which, Xtra willing, should be usable through the local ISP, but many of them charge a fee, often with a volume cap. Google provides web access to a large number of groups — other than those delivering bulky binary files, at groups.google.com.
Some staunch Usenet champions have called on fellow users to respond by taking their business away from Telecom.
Other factors, such as possible liability for the occasional defamatory posting or violation of censorship or copyright law, did not influence the decision to discontinue the long-standing news and discussion service, says an Xtra spokeswoman.
Victoria Unitversity’s InternetNZ-sponsored cyberlaw fellow, Judit Bayer, is studying ISP liability for such infringing content.
Many newsgroups have long been polluted by their own form of spam. In fact, the Usenet service suffered from the problem long before it began in earnest in email. Usenet postings are also a known harvesting ground for addresses for use in email spam. Many users no longer put their real email address on postings, instead using a prefix like firstname.lastname@example.org or more complex disguises to fool harvesting bots.
Xtra’s description of the Usenet service as “complimentary” has also raised ire. Users point out that the cost of it is simply bundled in with the cost of overall service.
Neither Ihug nor TelstraClear, with its ClearNet and Paradise ISPs, plans to withdraw Usenet service. According to Xtra, no smaller providers depend on it for a Usenet feed, but several users suggest the withdrawal of the service at the nation’s largest ISP must threaten the viability of the nz.* groups.
Complainants also point to Xtra’s own terms and conditions, where it undertakes to give customers 30 days’ notice of any change. Usenet users received about seven days’ notice of the termination.
Disclosure: Stephen Bell is a frequent and enthusiastic Usenet follower, who was once accused of writing most of nz.general. His ISP is not Xtra.