Family Group, Ma Bell Squabble Over E-Mail Campaign

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

( - The American Family Association (AFA) says AT&T Broadband and BellSouth Internet Service cut off the pro-family group's e-mail campaign against a hard-core pornography television channel. AT&T executives apparently considered the barrage of e-mails from AFA readers "spamming."

AFA's and websites each week feature "action items" encouraging readers to e-mail companies with their concerns about the exploitation of children in the entertainment media.

Since the websites were launched earlier this year, the AFA has received about a half-dozen complaints about its targeted e-mail campaigns. On Aug. 15, however, the group apparently hit a nerve with its campaign targeting AT&T Broadband for offering subscribers a Spice pornography channel called The Hot Network.

Hours after the AFA launched its campaign, AT&T temporarily cut off the e-mails coming from the Tupelo, Miss.-based group, according to Buddy Smith, AFA executive assistant.

"AT&T said we were interfering with their executives' ability to communicate on the web because they were getting so many e-mails," Smith said. "Our intention wasn't to interfere. We were just providing a ramp and a post office where our users could share their comments."

Smith said e-mail messages were sent to about 12 AT&T executives, including chairman and CEO Michael Armstrong. Smith contends that the e-mail addresses were easily accessible and therefore public knowledge.

A spokeswoman for AT&T Broadband confirmed the company contacted Smith about the e-mail messages because they were "putting pressure on our internal system."

"We did briefly stop receiving e-mail from those sites because they were sending multiple e-mails to multiple people at the company," spokeswoman Tracy Baumgartner said. "Their spamming created some congestion on our network."

Baumgartner said it took a few hours for AT&T to create a new mailbox where all the messages could be directed, and once that was done, the company began receiving e-mails again. She also noted AT&T responded to each e-mail message.

Initially, Smith said he dismissed AT&T's concern. But later that day, a representative from BellSouth Internet Services called, notifying Smith that the American Family Association had violated the "unfriendly activity" portion of its terms of service agreement. That agreement states in part, "Activities which adversely affect the ability of other people or systems to use BellSouth Internet Service or the Internet is prohibited."

Calls to the Atlanta headquarters of BellSouth were not returned, but Patsy Tolleson, director of the Mississippi division of BellSouth, said the company generally does not comment on its relationship with clients.

Smith disagreed with BellSouth's characterization and contacted the Mississippi Public Service Commission, which informed him that the Internet division of BellSouth was not a regulated company and therefore nothing could be done.

Even though Smith said he was frustrated the e-mail campaign was cut short, he will continue to use the system to address future issues. He said and are merely online post offices, where users with similar interests can send e-mail.

"We make it easy for people to register a concern," Smith said. "We send out a notice about an issue like AT&T. Then moms and dads come back to the website where a pre-written letter exists, which they can modify or just send it on."

The American Family Association has not canceled its service with BellSouth, but the organization plans to use another provider when sending e-mails in the future.

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