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22 November 2010, 3:00 pm 40 Comments

News: Amtrak Responds to Discriminatory WiFi Charges

This post was submitted by Zack Rosen

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post complaining about Amtrak’s blanket categorization of The New Gay as an “adult” website to be blocked, even though other websites with similarly frank discussions of straight issues were allowed. Amtrak’s  Marketing Communication Specialist Mark Mastro, who is also gay,  left the following comment that I thought was a nice way to continue the discussion. You can see Mark’s response below.

Dear Zack,

I was notified of your recent blog regarding your experience on Acela Express and your attempts to access The New Gay. Normally, all communications to passengers come through our Customer Relations Department; however, in your case I have asked that I be able to contact you directly.

I am actually one of the team members directly responsible for the launch of AmtrakConnect Wi-Fi in-station and on-board Acela Express. I am responsible for not only the marketing you see, but also for the continued development of on-board content provided through our Wi-Fi.

As a company, we absolutely agree with you that The New Gay does not fall under the category of “adult content”. I can tell you with absolute conviction this is not a site we set out to censor. Unfortunately, something is occurring with the automatic content filtering system we are using and we are attempting to determine why it is randomly blocking sites such as this. I can assure you many gay sites are not blocked, but regrettably some have fallen victim to the filter. When made aware of these situations, we have taken immediate action to unblock them, as has been done in the case of The New Gay. As of today, this site is now accessible. I will be going down to a trainset later this afternoon to confirm that my remote whitelisting has taken effect. To help resolve the problem longer term, we are in discussions with the outside company who supplied our content filter to see how they can help us to reduce the number of these occurrences as we move ahead.

You may find it reassuring that, as one of the main people responsible for onboard content filtering, I am myself a gay man who agrees we should not be unnecessarily censoring legitimate sites such as The New Gay. We appreciate your feedback, as it helps call attention to problems such as this so we can rectify the situation.

Regarding censorship, while in-station or on-board Acela Express we will continue to block access to true pornographic sites, whether heterosexual or homosexual, as this is a public network. I’m sure you can understand our need to block this level of content so that we can provide the best environment for all passengers. Many public Wi-Fi networks typically will do the same.

I sincerely hope with this further explanation, you will travel with Amtrak again. The issue you experienced is due to a technical glitch and not due to any social policies adopted by the company. The accepting environment and social policies adopted within Amtrak allow me to be 100% open about my sexuality without any fears of repercussions. We hope to have the problem rectified soon, and although there will always be the occasional site that slips through our fingers, we promise to be vigilant in continuing to monitor the situation.


Mark Mastro

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  • Petey Pablo said:

    Perhaps the original post should have waited . As it stands now, it seems a little hasty… I have been places that ban towleroad, joemygod, TNG, etc. but have accessed some obscure porn sites. Having ‘gay’ in the URL doesn’t help as that’s probably the first thing they block for. Broad? yes… but 90 percent of the sites i’ve seen that have ‘gay’ in the URL are actually porn.

    Next time, save the invective until you have at least 1 ounce of solid investigation behind you. by which i mean contact with the company. With so many automated technological filters in our lives, it’s best not to jump to published conclusions before you know the facts.

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