Frequently Asked Questions for The Telecom Digest

Last update October 13, 2019
This is the list of frequently-asked questions for The Telecom Digest, and it is sent to new subscribers automatically. It is also posted in the Digest whenever there's a major change.

Q. What is The Telecom Digest?

A. The Telecom Digest is the oldest continuously published mailing list on the Internet. It was started before Usenet existed, but is now available via the Usenet group comp.dcom.telecom, or as an email subscription.

Q. Who's in charge?

A. The current Moderator is Bill Horne, and you may reach him by sending email to telecomdigestsubmissions atsign telecom-digest.org

Q. How do I subscribe?

A. If you want to receive The Telecom Digest via email, send a "plain text" email message to sympa.atsign.telecom-digest.org, with the command "subscribe telecom" in the subject line, followed by the "quit" command in the message body, so you don't have to worry about any signature or other automatically-added content, which might confuse the SYMPA robot. You may choose to receive posts in a daily digest, with all the posts for the day included in a single email, or you may choose to have each post sent to your email address as soon as it is approved: the "digest plain text" option is the default, but if you prefer to get the "individual emails" or the "digest MIME version" version in your email, wait until your subscription has been confirmed, and then send a new email to sympa@telecom-digest.org, with the command "help" in the subject of the message, followed by the "quit" command on the first line of the message body. You'll receive a help message, which will tell you what other options are available.

If you want to subscribe an address OTHER THAN the one you are sending the subscription request from, then you need to send an email to the moderator, and include details of the request. Any email sent from an address which is obfuscated, incorrect, or which goes to a challenge-response system will be ignored.

You may also receive and post to The Telecom Digest via the Usenet group comp.dcom.telecom, either using a newsreader program such as "pine" (on Unix), or "Thunderbird" (on Windows), or through portals such as Google.

Q. What topics does The Telecom Digest cover?

A. The Telecom Digest is primarily, but not exclusively, focused on the world's telephone systems, networks, and companies. Our readers talk about regulations, technical matters, rates, numbering plans, tariffs, the prices charged for various services, alternatives to the traditional telephone network (such as VoIP), and related issues.

Q. What do I do if I want to talk about something else?

A. The Internet is a big place: it's impossible to list all the telecommunications-related groups available on Google and Usenet in this FAQ. If you're looking for a place to talk about two-way radios or ship's blinker lights or surplus military gear, the best way to go about finding a mailing list, group, or website for your interest is to do a Google search for the specific equipment you're looking for, and backtrack from that to the places where others who are interested in it hang out.

Q. How do I get something published in The Telecom Digest?

A. There are three ways to contribute original posts or to reply to posts made by others. ALL POSTS ARE SENT TO THE SAME INBOX and are evaluated by the same rules, so there's no need to worry about which one you use. Choose from these ways:

  1. Send an email to telecomdigestsubmissions.atsign.telecom-digest.org.
  2. Use an NNTP client, such as pine, or a combined email/nntp program, such as Mozilla Thunderbird, to subscribe to the Usenet group comp.dcom.telecom and send posts to the Telecom Digest via a Usenet server. If your ISP doesn't have a Usenet server, there are free ones available, such as the one at eternal-september.org.
  3. Use a commercial portal, such as Google, to access the Usenet group comp.dcom.telecom. You will have to have an account with the portal's owner in order to do this, but they're usually issued without charge.

No matter which way you send a message to The Telecom Digest, each message's "Subject" line must contain one of the following tags in order to be excepted from our spam-prevention process. There is no guarantee that a message without one of these tags will ever be read. The brackets around each tag must be included, but the quotes are not required; please note that the keywords in the tags are not case sensitive.

"[telecom]"
... if your post can be published verbatim.
"[nfp]"
... (Not For Publication) if your email is only for the Moderator's eyes.
"[obfuscate]"
... if you want the Moderator to modify your email address before publishing your post so that it cannot be used without being changed, i.e., so that it can't be copied by a spambot and used to send you spam. If you are a frequent Digest contributor, you may request that your email address be automatically obfuscated anytime you send a post, so that you may submit contributions without the need for the "[obfuscate]" tag.
"[Anonymous]"
... if you want all traces of your identity removed from the post before it is published. (See rules about anonymous postings, shown below.)
For example:
Subject: Re: FCC refuses to take action on cramming [Anonymous]
Subject: Eleven-digit phone numbers are coming [telecom]
Subject: Cell phone SMS spam is getting worse [Obfuscate]
Subject: I haven't seen my post yet [nfp]

Q. What are the Moderator's criteria for acceptable posts?

A. In general, the Moderator approves posts which meet the guidelines shown here. The Moderator's decisions are binding, but readers are always welcome to argue their case for an exception or for special treatment: in other words, if a post is rejected, a contributor may ask the Moderator to reconsider. The Moderator, in turn, may ask that potential posts be modified so as to make them acceptable, or may refuse to reconsider a decision to reject. The Moderator's decision is not subject to appeal, and The Telecom Digest does not allow "Meta" discussions about moderation policies or decisions.

Q. What are the rules about content?

A. There are very few rules. The most important are listed here:

  1. Netiquette is both encouraged and enforced. The Telecom Digest does not allow ad hominem attacks, unwarranted sarcasm, foul language, undocumented allegations of illegal or improper conduct, or other kinds of viciousness. The Moderator reserves the right to be completely arbitrary and capricious when making decisions about posts which, in the Moderator's sole and exclusive judgment, are inappropriate for publication.
  2. Posts must concern telecommunications using the spoken word or keyboards, i.e., they should be about the ways, people, politics, instruments, equipment, inventions, costs, history, and regulations that bear on spoken or text-based conversations between human beings.
  3. Posts which bear on other aspects of the PSTN are allowed if they are germane to discussion about the worldwide telephone network in some other way: e.g., a post about "texting" while driving would be OK, and a post about the use of phones while on an airline flight would also be acceptable.
  4. The Moderator enjoys the privilege of modifying both spelling and grammar when, in the Moderator's judgment, a post is not clear enough to read without changes. Posts which require extensive rewriting are usually rejected and returned to their authors for rework, but in cases where the author cannot be contacted (e.g., when a poster does not use a valid email address), then the Moderator may choose to step in and modify a post rather than delete it.

Q. What are the formatting and style rules?

A. The Digest has both formatting rules and style guidelines. Here are the rules:

  1. Your post must be written in English. Although it may contain words or phrases that are commonly used by non-English speaking peoples, such entries must be generally acceptable in the English-speaking online world.
  2. Any post submitted with base64 or other encoding which isn't readable "as is" will be rejected.
  3. No attachments of any sort are ever accepted. MIME emails are always converted to plain text before they are reviewed for publication, so HTML is always converted to plain text as well. MIME content such as V-Cards, and images such as corporate logos, are also removed.
  4. You may include URLs in your posts so long as they contain a valid domain name and point to a server which is currently online and where the page is available for inspection prior to publication. IP addresses are never allowed in place of domain names, and the Moderator reserves the right to delete any URL that does not point to a well-known domain in a free country.
  5. Since some readers use software which cannot automatically wrap long lines to fit the computer screen, please include a "hard" newline at the end of every line of your post. Posts that have "run-on" lines will be either rejected or reformatted, at the Moderator's option, to comply with this convention.
  6. Please do not use "Quoted Printable" encoding. Some Usenet=20 clients cannot decode it, which leaves the readers who use them=20 with a jumble of strange characters that they must try to=20 interpret by sight.
  7. The "Official" character set of The Telecom Digest is ISO-8859-1; US-ASCII is also acceptable. If you submit a post that uses another character set, such as UTF-8, it might be rejected.
  8. You must clearly identify the source(s) of quoted material.
  9. Any quotes which the Moderator deems to be excessively long are subject to trimming.
  10. Advertisements, even those automatically added to posts by "free" email/Usenet servers without a poster's consent, are unacceptable and may be removed.
  11. "Cartooney" legal statements which purport to limit the legal rights of someone who reads a post will always be deleted, or the post rejected. I don't care if your company email server adds them automatically: color them gone.

Q. Are there any guidelines about the style of posts?

A. Yes, and they are listed here. The Moderator reserves the right to modify non-compliant posts before publication if he chooses.

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  1. Please remember that The Telecom Digest has a worldwide audience, and that not all people use the email formatting customs which are common in the United States, and not all readers have access to high-definition computer screens that can show hundreds of characters per line, and not all readers have young eyes. The above ruler is a reminder to keep the lines of your posts within a seventy-column right margin, so as to allow room for quote marks in the left margin of followup posts.
  2. Please don't include "ASCII art" in your posts, including signature lines: don't forget that these sorts of decoration depend on fixed-width fonts to be readable, and that each Digest reader gets to choose the font (s)he prefers.
  3. Please do not use "leetspeak" or other childish misspellings.
  4. Excessive capitalization or using inappropriate mixtures of upper and lower case is frowned upon.
  5. Please limit the size of ".sig" files, and avoid pretentious quoting. Less _IS_ more.

Q. Does The Telecom Digest accept anonymous posts?

A. Sometimes, but reluctantly. Posters who request anonymity must add the "[anonymous]" tag to the subject line of their posts, and the Moderator makes a judgment on a case-by-case basis. Posters who request anonymity will please provide a brief reason for the request in a clearly-separated section of the email, e.g.,

******************************************************************
Please publish this anonymously. My country is
arresting those who discuss this subject publicly.
******************************************************************

Keep in mind that, if your request for an anonymous post is accepted, *ALL* information which might point to your identity will be deleted from your post. The post will appear with a different message-id than the one it arrived with, and all headers will be stripped, so you must include anything you want published in the body of your post. Of course, if you request an anonymous post but you want to include a website address, a product name, or other items of commercial value, then the post will be evaluated with an eye toward that and will almost always be rejected.

Don't even think of asking the Moderator to serve as a postman for encrypted emails: if you want to have someone encrypt their emails to you, then you must use a publicly-reachable email address and request encrypted replies in your post. Of course, you'll have to offer to trade X.509 or PGP keys in private emails, or have a PGP key available on a public key-server, such as pgp.mit.edu: the Telecom Digest does not publish PGP keys.

Q. May I "spam-proof" my email address?

A. Yes. It's OK to make your address "human readable", so that readers can send replies directly to you, but spam robots can't pick your address off our website and use it to spam you. However - If your email address is indecipherable, then your post will be reviewed more stringently than posts sent by those who are willing to receive direct emails. There is, of course, a gray area between having a "spam-proof" address and having an unusable one, and the Moderator makes decisions on a case-by-case basis as to whether posts with invalid email addresses are acceptable.

Q. Where are the archives of old posts?

A. Some are available on the Telecom Digest website, which is at http://www.telecom-digest.org/, but editions of the Digest produced before 2007 might not be online in a format that you can search or obtain with a web browser. As time allows, the Moderator is finding ways to make them more easy to use, and I welcome help with this project.

Q. Can we write about things that came before telephones?

A. Posts about things like semaphore signaling, Morse Code, The Pony Express, and Carrier Pigeons are discouraged. Such subjects may, however, be mentioned by posters who choose to illustrate the history, technology, regulations, and social forces which formed the PSTN we use today, but posts may not focus exclusively on them.

Q. Can I post a story about things which might come after telephones?

A. Not unless you are speculating in a believable way about the future direction the PSTN will take. The Telecom Digest is not a venue for Science Fiction, so if you want to post about phones on other planets, or other ways of communication which haven't been discovered yet, then you'll need to find a more appropriate place for your work.

Q. Since the line between "Data" and "Telephone" gets more blurry every day, how do you draw the line between VoIP services such as Vonage and Skype, and the more traditional telephone network?

A. If it concerns people using electronic means to talk to each other, it's fair game, provided that the method(s) being used are capable of connecting to the PSTN or are provided by a recognized common carrier. When there is room for doubt, each post is judged on its own merits.

Q. If I can sign up to receive each post separately, why is it called "The Telecom Digest"?

A. The original Telecom Digest was a compilation of emails that were received by the Moderator each day. The Moderator assembled each day's digest by hand, and sent it out manually, so there was no other subscription option besides the "digest" version. When The Telecom Digest was made available to Usenet readers, that changed, but the original title of the publication remained, so it is still called "The Telecom Digest". Up until 2007, the email version of The Telecom Digest was still assembled by hand each day, and was thus available only in digest form, even though it was, by that time, sent out using an automated email robot located at John Levine's server in New York. The email robot in use is "Sympa", which allows subscribers to choose either digest or individual emails, and since Usenet readers already enjoyed the option of seeing individual posts, Sympa is programmed to give email subscribers the same choice.

Q. What are the options available to subscribers using the email robot?

A. There are too many to list here: to get started on them, send a "plain text" email to sympa.atsign.telecom-digest.org with the word "help" in the subject line.

Q. How do I unsubscribe?

A. Send an email to sympa.atsign.telecom-digest.org, with the command "unsubscribe telecom" in the subject line of the message. If you no longer have access to the email account from which you subscribed, use the command "unsubscribe telecom <old.email.address>". If you don't have the password for an old account, and no longer have access to it to send emails to the SYMPA robot, then you may ask the Moderator to intercede and unsubscribe an old address on your behalf. Such requests are *always* verified. Please note: the SYMPA robot will AUTOMATICALLY unsubscribe any email address that is "bouncing" emails FOR ANY REASON. If your mailbox is full, you might lose your subscription, so please turn off delivery of the Digest when you go on vacation!

Q. How do I turn off delivery of the Telecom Digest while I'm on vacation?

A. You need only send a "set" command to the email robot, with the appropriate option. See the help file for more info.

Example: if you send an email to sympa.atsign.telecom-digest.org, and put

set * nomail

... in the subject line of the message, Sympa will stop delivery of ALL your subscriptions (Not just the Telecom Digest) until you send another "set" command to restart them.

Please note that all robot commands need to be confirmed, so you'll get a "challenge" email from the Sympa robot, containing instructions on how to confirm the command. If you prefer, you may send commands that are validated with your Sympa password, and they will be executed without need for confirmation: see the Sympa help files for info.

End of the Telecom Digest FAQ.