Big Brother Busted in Ma Bell Drag
So that “isolated” incident of political censorship in AT&T’s live “Blue Room” Webcast of Pearl Jam’s Lollapalooza set? Not so isolated after all.
AT&T initially characterized the deletion of unkind statements about the White House from Pearl Jam’s performance as “an unfortunate mistake” and “an isolated incident.” But after music fans pointed out that the company deleted remarks critical of the Bush administration from its Webcast of the Bonnaroo Festival as well, AT&T came clean. “It’s not our intent to edit political comments in Webcasts on the Blue Room,” said AT&T spokesman Michael Coe. “Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to insure that it will not happen again.”
AT&T’s mea culpa, though seemingly earnest, didn’t carry much weight with Net-neutrality advocates, who said the incidents highlight the need for regulations barring large telephone and cable companies from excercising too much control over the data transmitted over their networks. “AT&T is really getting into its role as content nanny in a big way,” Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, wrote in the Huffington Post. “First, it starts monitoring all sorts of conversations for the National Security Agency. Then it promises to work with the movie studios and NBC to come up with some super software to tag copyrighted material that flows through its network, regardless of how that content is used. Now it puts ‘content monitors’ on its Webcasts. We must ask: This is the company that wants to be left alone to run the Internet as it sees fit? The corporate officials of AT&T like to give speeches and to tell the FCC and Congress that they won’t block people’s access to content. They made that promise when they bought BellSouth for $80 billion last year. Former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre made it in a speech last March. They protest too much. Despite the denials from Whitacre and others in the telecom industry, this incident is just one more count in the indictment. Millions of people all over the country have signed petitions and told the government that they don’t want companies like AT&T to have control over what goes over the Internet. If you have to ask why, this is why.”