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Internet Users Irate Over E-Mail

By Joshua Quittner

Monday night, Lawrence Siegel, sat down at his computer terminal and typed out a short message, offering to provide free information about how to get a green card to anyone who sent him e-mail.

Siegel posted the message to more than 5,000 special-interest electronic bulletin boards on a system known as Usenet.

Irate Usenet users, incensed that Siegel had violated the communal, non-commercial tradition of Usenet, have been flooding his fax machine with "junk" faxes, and his telephone with obscene calls and even death threats. And, while more than 30,000 people sent e-mail to Siegel, he has not been able to read it because the company that sells him network access pulled the plug on his account Tuesday morning.

The lawyer has threatened to sue that company, Internet Direct Inc., for $250,000 -- the value of the business he estimates he's losing by not getting his e-mail. Yet Siegel says the experience has not dampened his enthusiasm for advertising on the Internet. In fact, a few months ago, when Siegel quietly posted a similar message to only several hundred bulletin boards, he got hundreds of paying clients, he said.

In the meantime, an official at Internet Direct Inc., the company that sold Siegel access, said he had no objection to giving Siegel his e-mail. But, said Jeff Wheelhouse, the company's system administrator, "We have no intention of letting (Siegel) back on our system since we don't want him to do this again."