AT&T Closes its Remaining Usenet Access

While the Internet mutates into what's now called Web 2.0, many old features enjoyed during the Internet Boom of the 90s--IRC, Usenet, GeoCities, Duke Nukem Forever--are being kicked to the curb like old black-and-white television sets. While the Duke Nukem sequel is still up in the air (forever it seems, literally), and IRC is ringing with echoes of empty halls, Usenet is quickly discovering that its days are numbered. In fact, this service, once carried by every ISP in North America, may only be accessible through third-party premium clients.

This is in part due to two factors: New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and child pornography. To be more precise, Cuomo put pressure on the main ISPs to cut off access to all alt.binary newsgroups, those Usenet newsgroups that provide actual data files. Not only can readers gain access to music, movies, television episodes, premium software and video games, but girl-on-girl movies, weird animal sex, and even images of naked kids. To gain access to those files, Internet subscribers merely log in to the ISP's newsgroup server and load up either an email client, or a 3rd party client that gathers and organizes all the newsgroup headings.

But because it's virtually impossible to police what is uploaded and downloaded from Usenet, many ISPs originally began to set limits on the amount of data users could download. Then, after the insistence of groups and politicians such as Cuomo, ISPs began to discontinue local access to Usenet altogether. Already Verizon, Sprint, American Online, and Time Warner Cable have completely shut down their Usenet access, and now AT&T has followed suit.

"Please note that on or around July 15, 2009, AT&T will no longer be offering access to the Usenet netnews service," said AT&T on the company's Usenet servers. Originally, AT&T complied with Cuomo's request to terminate access to alt.binary, blaming the "prevalence of child pornography in that newsgroup hierarchy." The company said that it was difficult to ensure that child porn would not appear in those newsgroups. But now Usenet is terminated altogether, and its subscribers will now need to look elsewhere for Usenet access.

“The pervasiveness of child pornography on the Internet is horrific and it needs to be stopped,” said Attorney General Cuomo.  “We are attacking this problem by working with Internet Service Providers to ensure they do not play host to this immoral business.  I commend the companies that have stepped up today to embrace a new standard of responsibility, which should serve as a model for the entire industry.”

According to Cuomo, the Attorney General's investigation uncovered 88 different Newsgroups that contained 11,390 "sexually lewd photos" of prepubescent children. The investigation also showed that many of the photos uncovered depicted children being raped as well as sexual activity involving animals. Cuomo said that Verizon, Time Warner Cable, and Sprint provided their subscribers with access to many of these Newsgroups.

But not anymore. With AT&T serving as the latest ISP to discontinue Usenet access, it may be that the old relic will eventually be left behind as the Internet moves forward. Then again, with Giganews and other premium subscriptions still in full gear, Usenet may still be around for quite some time.

Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then, he’s loved all things PC-related and cool gadgets ranging from the New Nintendo 3DS to Android tablets. He is currently a contributor at Digital Trends, writing about everything from computers to how-to content on Windows and Macs to reviews of the latest laptops from HP, Dell, Lenovo, and more.