TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: blockbbs.txt

Can Bell Block "illegal" BBSes from callers?

FCC to Decide on BBS Blocking

By Tara Sexton

A complaint currently under review by the Federal Communications Commission
could change the way long-distance companies handle bulletin-board systems.

The complaint, brought against Teleconnect, a long-distance carrier in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, questions that company's right to block access to a number it
suspected was being used fraudulently -- in this case, a bulletin-board
system (BBS).

Although the five national long-distance carriers polled by PC Week said
they currently do not block lines to combat fraud, all agreed that such a
practice is within their rights.  It is now up to the FCC to decide if such
blocking will continue.

If the commission finds in favor of the phone companies, users may find
themselves denied access to bulletin boards suspected of broadcasting
illegal access numbers. ''This could set a precedent,'' said Cathy Ness,
chief of the FCC's Informal Complaint Department, which is reviewing the

''Bulletin boards are more susceptible to fraud,'' said Robert Fox,
corporate security director at U.S.  Sprint in Kansas City, Mo. ''Access
codes are sometimes advertised on them.''

''I know of no legitimate BBS that allows publication of access codes,''
countered Ben Blackstock, a systems operator and a lawyer in Cedar Rapids.
''That kind of behavior is not tolerated.''

''BBSs are policed by their users, and the phone company has no right to
block access to them because someone else is tampering with the service,''
added John Oren, a systems operator for The Forum bulletin board in Cedar

Long-distance carriers, however, who see phone fraud as a
$500-million-a-year problem, say that the Electronic Communications Secrecy
Act of 1986 allows them to do ''whatever it takes to protect their networks
from loss,'' Fox said.

The legislation states that, ''phone companies can monitor, intercept and
disclose lines for reasons of non-payment or illegal behavior.''

The debate, then, centers around interpretation of the word ''intercept.''

''Intercept does not mean 'cut off' or 'block,' '' Blackstock said.
''Nowhere in that statute does it say that a phone company can arbitrarily
block access to a line for whatever reason without due process.''

''There needs to be a consistency to the blocking,'' said The Forum's John
Oren. ''Phone companies think that BBSs are impersonal computers, which they
aren't.  They're run by real people.  Do you think they'd block access to
IBM's lines if there was evidence of fraud?''

''Blocking is used to temporarily stop fraud so that it can be
investigated,'' countered Rami Abuhamdeh, executive director of the
Communications Fraud Control Association, in Dearborn, Mich. ''Customers
should appreciate the blocking as a way of keeping their rates down.''

System operators and others who use long-distance services said they hope
the FCC will set up guidelines for phone companies to follow when handling
cases of potential fraud.

The complaint behind the current controversy was filed by James Schmickley,
an engineer with Rockwell International in Cedar Rapids, who tried to dial a
Waterloo, Iowa, bulletin board last April, only to discover that the line
was being blocked by Teleconnect.  The same thing occurred two months later
when he tried to call a BBS in Barrington, Ill.

Teleconnect's senior vice president and general counsel, Casey Mahon, told
Schmickley that calls to the BBS were being blocked because of strong
evidence indicating theft of the company's services was occurring through
misuse of the access number.

While the block on both bulletin boards has been lifted, Teleconnect
maintains its right to block lines.

''If [Teleconnect] walks out the loser,'' said BBS operator Oren, ''it will
affect all long-distance companies.''

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