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By Jeff Schult 6/14/98

FCC Compromises, Schools Left Holding the Bag

The Federal Communications Commission has decided to cut back funding for the nation's most ambitious program to hook up schools to the Net.

The commission voted 3-2 today to provide $650 million in the second half of the year for the "e-rate" discount program for schools and libraries. The total funding for the year now comes to $1.275 billion--43 percent less than the $2.25 billion the FCC intended to collect for the program.

Some 30,000 schools have applied for the funds. The Net Effect? Huge telecommunications companies, which were raising rates to pay for the program, are placated. Vice President Al Gore gets a black eye. But –whether you think that the so-called e-rate was a reasonable way to go about wiring the nation’s schools and libraries or not, the schools are left holding the bag.. The application process required that schools sign contracts with the vendors that would actually be providing the discounts on Net access services and products. This means some e-rate applicants are committed to spending millions of dollars they may not get this year.


MSN Mail Goes into "Black Hole"

This week, the online service was targeted by anti-spam activists as one of the worst enablers of junk email and millions of furious MSN customers have found their emails lost in cyberspace -- innocent casualties of a powerful and far-reaching spam boycott.

MSN was placed on Paul Vixie's notorious Realtime Blackhole List. RBL is a mass Internet boycott tool aimed at Internet service providers and other companies that ignore repeated requests from Vixie's team to make their servers more resistant to spam. Vixie, a California consultant and engineer, runs the RBL with a team of volunteers, as part of the Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS).

The project is voluntarily supported by thousands of ISPs throughout the world to lessen the flood of spam across their networks and simultaneously pressure those companies that tolerate spam into doing something about it. This mainly involves closing any "open relays" on email servers that spammers can use to launch bulk email.

The boycott effectively makes a given range of network addresses "invisible," and email sent to a such addresses is bounced back to the sender with a message explaining the purpose of the black hole.

With assurances that MSN servers would be adjusted to prevent their use by spammers, the ISP came off the service five minutes later, Rand said.

Vixie said that the actual technical adjustments have not yet been made, but that MSN management had told MAPS when to expect it to be done, "and so we've removed them from the RBL until at least that time," he said.

Vixie added that MAPS is receiving about two complaints per minute from the backlog of msn.com customers who are only now finding bounced mail in their email boxes.

Navy Settles McVeigh Case

The US Navy reached a settlement this week with 18-year Navy veteran Tim McVeigh, whose online privacy rights were violated by the Navy and AOL.

The Navy sought to discharge Master Chief Petty Officer Timothy R. McVeigh -- no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber of the same name -- on the strength of an America Online user profile in which he listed himself as gay. The world's largest online service had confirmed McVeigh's identity to a Navy investigator posing as a civilian.

The Navy said it had abandoned its attempts to discharge him and offered him a deal to retire with full benefits. America Online separately reached a settlement with McVeigh in January.

McVeigh, 36, will continue serving in the Navy until this fall. The settlement also gives him US$90,000 to cover legal fees and court costs.


Washington Junk Email Law – Yeah, Right

Check out http://www.wa.gov/wwweb/AGO/junkemail/home.html, and see if YOU think the nation’s first spam regulation bill will work. It went into effect June 11.

My favorite part:

"If you are considering sending unsolicited commercial e-mail to a Washington e-mail address holder, please read Washington's law on Unsolicited E-Mail. The law creates an obligation for the sender to find out whether the intended recipient's address is registered to a Washington resident. You may do this by contacting the intended recipient's Internet domain registrant or through other sources including public Internet directories.

"E-mail addresses registered on this system can only be verified one at a time."

Like THAT’S going to happen.

No Windows, please:

As part of a university project, David Chun, a student from UCLA, attempted to buy a PC without Windows 95 from a major national vendor. He went 0 for 12.


Now, I know how to buy a PC without Windows 95. I imagine a lot of people who listen to radio shows about computers on Sunday mornings know how to buy a PC without Windows 95 on it. But go down the list – Sony, Dell, Micron, Gateway, Packard Bell, IBM, Comp USA – and Chun found they won’t sell you a PC without it and won’t take it off for you.

I guess I was surprised that they wouldn’t charge you MORE for a PC WITHOUT it. Remember the old Monty Python skit: "Orders without Spam, 50 cents extra?"