Update December 22, 5.30 p.m. IST: Tweets with the hashtag #Vodafoneblocks now indicate that Blogspot domain is inaccessible in Mumbai and Bengaluru on Vodafone mobile networks. We will report further developments.

On Wednesday, Vodafone lifted a blanket block it had put on the free WordPress domain (WordPress.com) on its 2G and 3G mobile networks in Mumbai. We had reported earlier that WordPress was blocked in Mumbai by Vodafone since a few months, the earliest instance of which we noticed in August. The blogging website, which has 25 million registered blogs, was available in other cities for the duration of the blockade.

The lifting of the block coincided with the appearance of the hashtag #Vodafoneblocks on Twitter on Tuesday. Disgruntled Vodafone users expressed their annoyance in their tweets tagged ‘Vodafoneblocks’ and even set up a crowdsourced spreadsheet that enlisted blogs that weren’t accessible.

Vodafone maintained through the course of the blockade that it had not blocked the WordPress domain. To numerous subscribers who lodged complaints, Vodafone replied, “We wish to inform you that Vodafone provide only Internet services, network connectivity which help you connect with any site which you wish to access. Any Site's [sic], blog's [sic] are third party applications where we don't hold any restrictions for accessing. Restriction could be part of handset or particular site.” When further probed telephonically, Vodafone customer service executives attributed the inaccessibility of the blogging website to issues with applications, browsers, operating systems, or handsets. They could not explain why WordPress blogs were accessible in Mumbai using the same devices and software on the networks of other Internet service providers. One subscriber escalated her complaint to the nodal authority and the appellate authority at Vodafone but did not receive a reply. Our attempts to contact senior Vodafone officials over the entire issue have repeatedly drawn a blank.

UDP traceroute for Vodafoneblocks

UDP traceroute log for a WordPress blog taken on December 19 in Mumbai. It shows that the blog was inaccessible.

Visiting free WordPress blogs or user accounts on Vodafone led to a generic error message, “cannot establish a connection to <blog URL>”. Users could log in to their WordPress accounts but could not post or edit any content. During the course of the blanket block, WordPress was accessible through free proxies such as Hidemyass.com from the Vodafone mobile network in Mumbai. Several tests conducted using traceroute, a tool that displays the path taken by data packets on the network, showed that blogs on the domain were inaccessible.

The four month old block was lifted within less than 24 hours of the hashtag #Vodafoneblocks appearing.

@aatifsumar: @tech2eets side by side screen shots showing a page opening on other connection [MTNL broadband] but not vodafone #vodafoneblocks pic.twitter.com/2I9LB3CD

@TheBigBhookadStop bull****ting us, @VodafoneIN! WordPress sites work completely fine on other networks. Ask your tech team to resolve that glitch ASAP.

@kamdarsidtheir senior officials r blocked? RT @aldebaran14 Vodafone called. “We haven't blocked. Senior officials are unavailable.” #Vodafoneblocks

@Shobha_SV: Calling me won't help at all. It is just a waste of my time. Please solve the problem and I'll be happy! #vodafoneblocks

@tinucherianNot the first time @VodafoneIN blocks arbitrary URLs, including Wikipedia pages pic.twitter.com/NXPzIJE5 #Vodafoneblocks

@scattereddimag@VodafoneIN Add blogspot to the sites as well. You people are really against bloggers aren't you? @TheBigBhookad

@subirendra: All ye Vodaf**ked ppl. Port to @Airtel_Presence. @aatifsumar @aldebaran14 @tinucherian @tech2eets @thebigbhookad
Reliable sources have opined that the blanket block could be the result of a technical glitch. It could be that a block implemented at some point in time was not properly revoked or that blocking or filtering measures were not correctly applied, leading to the entire domain being shut off.
Late in August, Tech2 had reported a blanket block placed on the free WordPress domain by Sify and the Tata Photon (CDMA broadband) service of Tata Teleservices across India. The block was lifted after more than a week. No reason was cited by Tata Teleservices for placing the block. At around the same time, Airtel had temporarily blocked Youtu.be URLs citing orders by the court “or” the DoT. In October, Airtel had blocked the Blogspot domain on fixed line and mobile Internet connections in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, and Chennai for almost a week. The blogging website was also inaccessible on MTNL's Trump 3G service in Mumbai simultaneously. Reliance Netconnect had blocked Wikipedia across the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka circles in November for five days. It is clear from these instances that over the past few months, ISPs have haphazardly placed and removed blocks on popular domains that host user-generated content.
The Madras High Court had disallowed domain-wide blocks in June this year. “… interim injunction is granted only in respect of a particular URL where the infringing movie is kept and not in respect of the entire website. Further, the applicant is directed to inform about the particulars of URL where the interim movie is kept within 48 hours.”

If you are facing an ISP-level block, please let us know in the comments. Do mention your ISP, location, and type of connection (mobile or wired).

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