SpamCop blacklist and Bell Canada web site nightmare

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
February 8th, 2006 • 10:40 am

It all started with an e-mail from my mother-in-law, who is 75 years old and uses her three-year-old iBook (her first ever computer) mostly for e-mail communication, web browsing, and the occasional letter writing.

She has a dial-up subscription with Aliant, which is part of the Bell Canada network. It usually works fine for her.

She uses e-mail mostly to keep in touch with family members and friends, but is also a member of a mailing list about India, which is the country where she was born (of English parents) and grew up, before moving back to England when she was 18 and eventually immigrating to Canada.

This mailing list is pretty important to her. She receives several messages from the list every day, and enjoys reading about India and sharing her memories and experiences with various people from around the world.

Imagine her shock and distress this morning when she got an automated e-mail from Rootsweb, the service hosting the India mailing list, advising her that she had been removed from the list because of repeated bounces!

She, of course, has no idea what this is all about, and the automatic message gives her very little indication of what the problem is and what she should do about it. I am her “technical guru” and she forwarded the message to me right away.

The message reads:

Date: February 7, 2006 9:55:19 PM AST
Subject: You have been removed from the list

Your mail address has been removed
from the mailinglist.
It generated an excessive amount of bounced mails.

Before sending in a subscription request to again, please ensure that
this problem has been resolved. When in doubt, ask your system
administrator or send mail to “postmaster”.

The last one of those bounced mails has been quoted below:
From MAILER-DAEMON Tue Feb 7 18:55:19 2006
Received: from ( [])
by (8.12.8/8.12.8) with ESMTP id k181tJE0030742
for ; Tue, 7 Feb 2006 18:55:19 -0700
Received: from ( [])
by (8.13.4/8.13.4) with ESMTP id k181tI2Q019262
; Tue, 7 Feb 2006 18:55:19 -0700
Received: from localhost (localhost)
by (8.12.8/8.12.8) id k181npwm025120;
Tue, 7 Feb 2006 18:55:18 -0700
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 2006 18:55:18 -0700
From: Mail Delivery Subsystem
Message-Id: <>
Old-Content-Type: multipart/report; report-type=delivery-status;
Subject: Returned mail: see transcript for details
Auto-Submitted: auto-generated (failure)
X-Scanned-By: MIMEDefang 2.52 on

This is a MIME-encapsulated message


The original message was received at Tue, 7 Feb 2006 18:49:51 -0700
from slist@localhost

—– The following addresses had permanent fatal errors —–
(reason: 554

—– Transcript of session follows —–
… while talking to
< << 554
554 5.0.0 Service unavailable

Now, just for a second, imagine how a non-technical person who’s been subscribed to this list for several years without any problems is supposed to cope with such a situation. It’s impossible.

Obviously her e-mail box is not full. (She retrieves her e-mail dutifully every day.) The only clue given by the automatic message is the last two lines, which just say that the Bell Canada servers have been bouncing e-mails back to the list with the error “Service unavailable.

I then went to the RootsWeb site and looked at the Help Desk page. There I saw the following post:

Mail Lists:

SpamCop has/had RootsWeb on their blacklist

The blacklisting website SpamCop has, or has had, some of our mailing list servers listed on their blacklist several times in the past week or so. It would seem that a number of ISPs use this blacklist service as we have seen a significant amount of email bounce back.

From our investigations, it would seem that one or more subscribers to mailing lists are unfortunately reporting list mail as spam. We are seeking to remove this source of false reporting.
If your ISP uses the SpamCop service and your mail has bounced, we would ask that you request of your ISP to whitelist RootsWeb’s mailing list servers. Being on a whitelist would allow mail to be delivered, even if we are on a corresponding blacklist. RootsWeb’s server details are available from RootsWeb’s HelpDesk or by enquiring of RootsWeb’s postmaster.

Numbers of subscribers will have bounced off mailing lists and subscribers are invited to check their mailing list subscriptions via PasswordCentral.

Again, very helpful stuff. This problem has nothing to do with the list subscribers themselves, and everything to do with the fact that RootsWeb appears to have been erroneously blacklisted by SpamCop and consequently by all kinds of Internet service providers using SpamCop as a reference tool for their fight against spam.

I suspect that the “Service unavailable” message given by the Bell Canada is actually their way of blocking e-mail from blacklisted domains. The problem is that this generates bounces and that the bounces, in turn, cause the RootsWeb mailing list servers to unsubscribe subscribers en masse. Ugh.

I told my mother-in-law to try to resubscribe to the list to see what will happen, but I suspect the bounces will continue and she’ll be removed from the list again, until RootsWeb solve their problem with SpamCop.

RootsWeb mailing list subscribers are invited to contact their ISPs to get them to whitelist Rootsweb so that the mailing list messages won’t be erroneously flagged as spam and bounced back to the sender. Of course, it’s far too much to ask of my mother-in-law, so I thought I would try to contact Bell Canada on her behalf.

And that’s where this thing really turns into a technological nightmare.

I went to the Sympatico/Bell Canada web site in my browser and managed to find a “Contact Us” page. I filled out the web form using my mother-in-law’s identity and e-mail address, which is “” I specifically put the e-mail address in the “E-mail Address:” field, which is required for customers who check the radio button saying that they are indeed subscribed to Bell Canada’s Internet service.

Then I tried to submit the form. I got this error message:

You are missing the following fields:
This is not a valid sympatico email


The e-mail address I submitted was obviously perfectly valid, so I figured it had to be some kind of incompatibility with Safari, which is of course not a browser supported by the web site. So I fired up Camino instead and used the direct link to the “Contact Us” web form page.

This time I got redirected to a generic web page on the site asking me to choose in a list of provinces that doesn’t even include mine (Nova Scotia)!

At the bottom, that page also says:

Browser support: To experience to its fullest, you must have Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 and you will need to accept cookies.

Right. So I figured I’d try good old Microsoft Explorer instead. Same result! Here again, I got redirected to the generic web page.

Finally, I tried to go to the “Contact Us” web form with Firefox. This time, did take me to the web form page but… in French! I tried to reload the page in English using the “English” link at the top, and it did load the English version of the form, but then, at the last minute, it switched back to the French version!

I figured that French was better than nothing, even though my mother-in-law doesn’t speak any French. So I tried to submit the information with the French form. Same error again with the form not recognizing the address as a valid email address!

As a last ditch effort, I tried to change the user agent in Safari to “Windows MSIE 6.0” (in the “Debug” menu) and submitted the information yet again with the form. Same error message!

I am afraid there’s no point in trying any further. I suspect that the form would even fail in Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 with the same error message too! I wouldn’t be surprised if the form on the web site was actually only designed to process requests from Sympatico subscribers in the provinces mentioned on the other generic web page. Since my province was not part of that list, even though I did reach the “Contact Us” form by visiting the Sympatico web site, I am afraid that they probably have some kind of script that checks the e-mail addresses submitted and only accepts the ones for Sympatico subscribers in the supported provinces.

Good grief. And then take a look at the form fields for the phone number:

Form fields

Nice, uh? (They look the same in Firefox and in Camino too.)

This is really, truly pathetic. Can you imagine my mother-in-law going through all this just to try and help solve a problem that has nothing to do with her, but affects her in a very real way? I know I can’t. I barely could find enough patience to do all this myself.

Finally, I figured out that, even though our Internet service is called “Sympatico,” I probably wasn’t supposed to go to the Sympatico web site, which is part of the web site. So I tried the Aliant web site instead. I submitted all the information about this blacklisting business through their generic form for contacting them, which covers all services and not just Internet service. The word “Sympatico”—which is, after all, the name of the Internet service itself—was not mentioned anywhere on the page but at least they seemed to know that our province existed.

I have no idea if or when my message will actually get to someone who knows about the Internet service. If I want a better answer, I probably should pick up the phone and get in line to try to speak to a “customer service representative” and try to get them to escalate the problem… Do I have the patience for this?

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