AT&T Will Censor Internet Content, So The Government Doesn’t Have To!

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The LA Times reports that AT&T censored a performance by Pearl Jam, in an article that notes:

In a prominent nod to one of the festival’s lead sponsors, the logo for this year’s Lollapalooza concerts in Chicago includes the tag line, “delivered by AT&T.” But Sunday’s headliner Pearl Jam complained that AT&T delivered less than the band’s full performance during its Lollapalooza webcast. The powerhouse telco turned off the audio during the song “Daughter” while singer Eddie Vedder was railing against President George Bush. That bit of censorship — which AT&T says was a mistake — gave a bit of fuel to the forces arguing for “Net neutrality” regulations. …

… Advocates of Net neutrality rules quickly seized on the incident as justification for requiring high-speed Internet access providers to provide a level playing field for content and services online. AT&T, one of the country’s largest broadband suppliers, is one of the loudest opponents of such rules.

“The admitted censoring of a Pearl Jam performance is just one more reason why content should be protected against the actions of a company looking out for itself, rather than for consumers and the free flow of information over the Internet,” said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. “We join Pearl Jam in condemning censorship and in promoting Internet Freedom. We hope the FCC and Congress take note.”

Added Craig Aaron, communications director for Free Press, “Every time something is censored or blocked it’s a ‘mistake’ or a ‘glitch.’ And that could well be the case. But of course there’s no way for users to know. That’s exactly how it will be on the non-neutral Internet and closed wireless networks, where AT&T will be a gatekeeper deciding what you see and when you see it.” …

Public Knowledge has a short video about the importance of network neutrality here. The consequences of AT&T and other private companies for Internet users is censorship that doesn’t trigger constitutional concerns very readily, and that is largely driven by commercial considerations. Pornography, for example, is so profitable that it is unlikely to be censored by commercial ISPs. But any given Internet service providing company like AT&T that profits directly from pornography might choose to censor criticism of pornography, just as it censored criticism of Bush, and convincing a court that this violates the First Amendment could be a long, complicated and probably doomed project. Many large companies make millions of dollars from pornography, and it’s certainly within the possibility that some would relish the opportunity to use Internet censoring filters to obfuscate this fact.

–Ann Bartow

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