CompuServe has been banned by Usenet administrators, who accuse it of passing along unwanted and abusive bulk e-mail, or "spam," despite repeated requests to stop.
On Monday night, an informal group of Usenet administrators and concerned users shut off all traffic coming from CompuServe servers and individual accounts to Usenet, which provides online discussion groups on thousands of subjects.
The "Usenet Death Penalty" (UDP) was last applied in August to Internet service provider UUNet, which the group said was also too tolerant of spam. The group then lifted that penalty to negotiate with UUNet.
This is not a step we take lightly," said Usenet news administrator Rick Buchanan, who publicly announced the CompuServe ban Tuesday morning. "CompuServe is not the enemy; spammers are the bad guys here. But inaction makes CompuServe a passive accomplice to the people who are trying to destroy Usenet."
"We have made every possible attempt to inform CompuServe about their growing problem, and have repeatedly offered to assist them in dealing with it," Buchanan continued. "Their unresponsiveness has been ... unprecedented in my experience as a spam-fighter. The UDP was our last resort."
Buchanan said the company ignored complaints and e-mail reports from several people for months and has not taken any action to stop flagrant abusers.
There are two types of abuse currently, Buchanan said. First, a large number of messages have been posted directly to CompuServe news servers from known, persistent, and destructive spammers.
Secondly, and more seriously, a growing number of spammers are using CompuServe dial-up accounts to send their unwanted mail to other news servers.
Buchanan cited an example of a man calling himself "Sexjunky" posting pornographic spam to sexual-abuse recovery newsgroups. Another man sends hundreds of forged and fraudulent ads for "business opportunities."
Buchanan said the blockage will continue until CompuServe sets firm policies on acceptable usage and starts enforcing them -- for example, responding to complaints sooner and terminating spammers.
"We don't set any specific criteria regarding spam volume," Buchanan said. "Even the most conscientious ISP can get flooded by a megaspammer. We just want them to do something!"
Gail Whitcomb, spokeswoman for CompuServe at its Columbus, Ohio, headquarters, said on Tuesday afternoon that the company is taking "immediate corrective action."
CompuServe is currently drawing up an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which should be posted late Tuesday and seen by all users by Wednesday. Enforcement of the policy will start as soon as they can assume all users have seen it - that is, nearly immediately in the case of spammers, who are heavy users.
Whitcomb said she hadn't seen the exact policy, but it should closely resemble other online services' AUPs in terms of banning large quantities of unsolicited and unwelcome messages.
The problem is that newsgroups are not policed the way proprietary online services such as CompuServe and AOL are.
"It's still kind of the Wild West out there," Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb added that CompuServe has not been ignoring the spam problem.
"I'm surprised [the Usenet group] would say we are unresponsive, because we have been working on this for two months," Whitcomb said. "Basically, what these folks have done is just accelerate the solutions we would use ... by a day or two."
The company was bought out in October and divided between America On-Line and WorldCom. AOL received CompuServe's online services, and WorldCom got its networking plumbing.