For many Internet users, the idea that their service provider was particularly aggressive in cracking down on e-mail spam would be welcome news. But some of Verizon's 3 million high-speed Internet customers say the company is bungling the job and hurting their livelihoods.
Since mid-December, users have complained on Internet message boards and to Verizon customer service centers that they are not receiving legitimate inbound e-mail from Europe and Asia. Verizon, they say, has taken the unusual step of blocking nearly all mail from certain geographic areas because some networks in those regions are used by spammers.
"My business has been disrupted," said Gerson S. Sher, an independent consultant who works on projects fostering scientific cooperation between the United States and Russia. He said a contract he was negotiating was delayed by several weeks, and another key meeting failed to take place because correspondents could not get e-mail through to him.
Douglas Place, vice president of Verizon's data network services, said the company is not blocking entire regions, has not changed its policies and is merely doing what most Internet service providers do: monitoring its own networks and blocking mail from other networks that Verizon deems to be conduits of large-scale spamming.
But that explanation does not satisfy Sher, who is especially angry because it has taken weeks and several phone calls to Verizon representatives to get even a rudimentary understanding of what is going on. On his first call, he said, a representative told him that Verizon, like all Internet service providers, blocks mail from certain networks because they are known to carry spam and viruses borne by e-mail.
But Sher was told he merely needed to put any legitimate address from which he was expecting e-mail onto his "white list," which would keep e-mail from that source from being diverted into a spam folder.
It was bad advice, Verizon officials now acknowledge. When the company blocks certain senders from penetrating its main network, an individual's white list has no effect.
Speculation that Verizon was blocking whole regions -- a move that would set it apart from other Internet service providers in the war on spam -- was fanned in part by an Internet posting last month by a Verizon technical support employee who suggested it was now company policy, Place said.
"The Internet is a chatty community," Place said. "When that popped up, people said 'It must be this.' "
Place said the note was not official and that the technician no longer works there.