August 26, 2003 4:22 PM PDT

AOL pressed to stop blocking addresses

A Texas Web hosting company filed a motion for contempt Tuesday against America Online, alleging that the Internet giant failed to comply with a judge's order to stop blocking e-mail addresses AOL believed were sources of spam.

The latest motion stems from actions taken by Bedford, Texas-based C I Host against AOL last week. On Friday it won a restraining order from a state court that required AOL to stop blocking e-mail sent by some of C I Host's clients to AOL members.

AOL's anti-spamming techniques sometimes block Internet addresses that are allegedly sources of bulk unsolicited e-mail. But C I Host contends that AOL blocked e-mail from clients who were not involved with spamming. It claims in its contempt motion that AOL has continued to block its clients even after being served the restraining order last Friday.

AOL hasn't been "complying with the judge's order to unblock all of our IP addresses," said Nancy St. Pierre, a spokeswoman for C I Host. "We are asking the judge for sanctions against them."

AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham criticized the allegations in the original restraining order as "without merit" and said that the blocks against C I Host were implemented consistent with its anti-spam policy. He declined to elaborate on why AOL blocked C I Host e-mails in the first place, citing a court gag order.

"AOL has complied with the judge's request to the best of our abilities," Graham said in an e-mail.

Judge Bonnie Sudderth of the 352nd District Court of Ft. Worth, Texas, will hear arguments on the issue on or after Tuesday, Sept. 2.

The legal wrangling between C I Host and AOL stems from one of the most reviled byproducts of the Internet: bulk commercial e-mail, or spam. The proliferation of spam has caused Internet service providers to play an expensive game of cat-and-mouse against bulk e-mailers and has caused headaches for ISP subscribers in managing their in-boxes.

AOL commonly blocks e-mail from people who run their own e-mail servers through a broadband service, a common way for spammers to distribute their messages. ISPs are also required to register their mail servers with AOL to gain passage.

These techniques attack the spam problem broadly, sometimes affecting legitimate e-mailers, such as small businesses that run their own mail servers.


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