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How Comcast Censors Political Content

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How Comcast Censors Political Content
Or Why My Comcast Horror Story Is Better Than Yours
By David Swanson

Most Comcast internet customers seem to have horror stories, but in my humble opinion this one is a doozie and may even suggest threats to freedom of speech more significant than the jailing of a court stenographer.

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I'm working on a campaign headquartered at www.afterdowningstreet.org that seeks to draw attention to the Downing Street Minutes and to lobby Congress to open an investigation into whether the President has committed impeachable offenses. According to a recent Zogby poll, 42 percent of Americans favor impeachment proceedings if the President lied about the reasons for war, and according to a recent ABC News / Washington Post poll, 52 percent think he did. But this story is nowhere to be found in the corporate media. So, our website attracts a lot of traffic.

In addition, July 23rd is the three-year anniversary of the meeting on Downing Street that produced the now infamous minutes, and we are organizing events all over the country on that day. Or, we're trying to. But we noticed about a week ago that everyone working on this campaign was having strange Email problems. Some people would get Emails and some wouldn't, or they'd receive some but not others. Conference calls were worse than usual (I can't stand the things anyway) because half the people wouldn 't get the info and know where to call in. Organizing by internet is super easy, but when you have to follow up every Email with a phone call to see if someone got it, it becomes super frustrating. Volunteers have been complaining all over the country especially now that we've figured out what the problem was and they know what to complain about.

We didn't know it, but for the past week, anyone using Comcast has been unable to receive any Email with "www.afterdowningstreet.org" in the body of the Email. That has included every Email from me, since that was in my signature at the bottom of every Email I sent. And it included any Email linking people to any information about the upcoming events.

From the flood this evening of Emails saying "Oh, so that's why I haven't heard anything from you guys lately," it seems clear that we would have significantly more events organized by now for the 23rd if not for this block by Comcast.

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Disturbingly, Comcast did not notify us of this block. It took us a number of days to nail down Comcast as the cause of the problems, and then more days, working with Comcast's abuse department to identify exactly what was going on. We'd reached that point by Thursday, but Comcast was slow to fix the problem.

During the day on Friday we escalated our threats to flood Comcast's executives with phone calls and cancellations, and we gave them deadlines. Friday evening, Comcast passed the buck to Symantec. Comcast said that Symantec's Bright Mail filter was blocking the Emails, and that Symantec refused to lift the block, because they had supposedly received 46,000 complaints about Emails with our URL in them. Forty-six thousand! Of course, Symantec was working for Comcast, and Comcast could insist that they shape up, or drop them. But Comcast wasn't interested in doing that.

Could we see two or three, or even one, of those 46,000 complaints? No, and Comcast claimed that Symantec wouldn't share them with Comcast either.

By the time Comcast had passed the buck to the company that it was paying to filter its customers Emails, Brad Blog had posted an article about the situation and urged people to complain to Comcast.
http://www.bradblog.com/archives/00001602.htm

Brad quickly added Symantec phone numbers to the story on his website, and we called Symantec's communications department, which fixed the problem in a matter of minutes.

So, why does this matter?

Comcast has a near monopoly on high-speed internet service in much of this country, including much of the Washington, D.C., area. Many members of the media and many people involved in politics rely on it. Three days ago, I almost decided to put a satellite dish on my roof. There's no other way for me to get high-speed internet, unless I use Comcast.

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Comcast effectively censors discussion of particular political topics, and impedes the ability of people to associate with each other, with absolutely no compulsion to explain itself. There is no due process. A phrase or web address is tried and convicted in absentia and without the knowledge of those involved.

Now, did Comcast do this because it opposes impeaching the President? I seriously doubt it. Apparently the folks at Symantec did this, and Comcast condoned it. But why?

Well, we have no evidence to suggest that these 46,000 complaints actually exist, but we can be fairly certain that if they do, they were generated by someone politically opposed to our agenda. There's simply no possible way that we've accidentally annoyed 46,000 random people with stray Emails and mistyped addresses. We've only been around for a month and a half, and we haven't spammed anyone. In fact, during the course of trying to resolve the problem, Comcast assured us that they knew we hadn't spammed anyone. And once we'd gotten Symantec's attention, they didn't hesitate to lift the block.

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http://davidswanson.org
David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)
 

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