The impossible task of removing my DigitalOcean IP from AT&T’s RBL

I recently started running my own email server over at Digital Ocean. The process took me about a week or so, but the majority of that time was not spent configuring the server. I had spent about five days wrestling with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft to get my IP address removed from their Real-time Block Lists (RBLs). Unfortunately, to this day I have been unable to get removed from AT&T’s RBL.

RBLs are a tool for blocking IP addresses that are known to send spam. If your email server sends out a lot of spam, RBL is an easy mechanism for blocking your IP address early on so that the server doesn’t have to do any further processing of the email. Fortunately, some of the larger companies that run their own RBL will allow you to submit a request to get removed from the list under the condition that you will abide by their rules. It was a relatively painless process to get my server properly aligned with the latest anti-spam efforts: ensure you have the right SPF record, DKIM and DMARC configuration, and a slew of other things.

The process for removing my IP address from Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft RBLs took a relatively short amount of time. Even if my emails landed in the Spam folder of some peoples’ accounts, I was still able to improve my reputation by having people mark my emails as “Not Spam”. Over time, the reputation on my emails got better and I was able to reach the inbox directly without any issues. But not with AT&T emails.

Since August 2016, I have had trouble sending emails to my uncle on a number of occasions. I receive an email from him and try to respond, only to receive an email back stating that I was blocked by AT&T’s servers due to my IP being in their RBL. And each time that I receive this email back, I submit a new request to have my IP address removed from their RBL website (rbl.att.net), only to have my request unfulfilled.

There has been a forum thread up on the AT&T Community Forums surrounding this issue for over two years, and the same (likely automated) response is posted over and over again:

I have tried sending emails to the abuse_rbl@abuse-att.net email address on several occasions, with no success. In light of this post, someone suggested that I send an email to abuse_rbl@att.net, but that email got blocked. :-)

I am convinced that AT&T really does not care at all about their Real-time Block List server, since even the homepage of the RBL domain has remained unchanged for over six years. The sad truth of the matter is that there is likely nobody at AT&T who holds responsibility for the RBL server any more, and it’s just some server that is rejecting emails without any corrections being done.

I guess the best way to keep in touch with my uncle is to call him in response. Oh well.

Update: I received an email on November 15th from AT&T stating that I would be removed from their RBL within 48 hours. I was able to get in touch with my uncle by email the day after.