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« Coming Clean | Main | Does Mars Need Humans? »

Stifling Of Dissent At AT&T?

If true, this is of particular concern to me:

AT&T has rolled out new Terms of Service for its DSL service that leave plenty of room for interpretation. From our reading of it, in concert with several others, what we see is a ToS that attempts to give AT&T the right to disconnect its own customers who criticize the company on blogs or in other online settings.

My DSL service is with Bellsouth, which recently was reabsorbed into the AT&T borg collective. So if they're serious about this, they could in fact choke off my tube to the Interweb. After all, when one Googles Bellsouth DNS Problems," one of my posts comes up number two. Same thing with my complaints about "Bellsouth Usenet Problems." And don't even get me started on email.

So, yeah, I'm concerned, I guess, but as the article points out, it wouldn't be very good PR for them to cut off service to critics (particularly when the criticism is completely legitimate).

But I also have a problem with the article:

There's nothing which guarantees that what AT&T is doing here is either legal or what the company intends. This wouldn't be the first time that poorly thought-out legal language made it into a contract used by a major corporation. Why are we thinking it's an oversight? Simple: we believe that AT&T isn't misguided enough to expect to be able to squash First Amendment rights with a ToS contract without losing both face and their cozy legal status.

Apparently, very few people understand the First Amendment, at least insofar as it protects speech rights. Ahmadinejad had no First Amendment right to speak at Columbia, and he had no First Amendment right to not be criticized, either before, during or after his speech. And I have no First Amendment right to AT&T DSL service, or to not have it cut off if I express an opinion over its tubes. All that the First Amendment says is that "Congress shall make no law," not "Columbia University will grant a podium and audience," or "AT&T shall provide Internet service regardless of the behavior of the customer."

AT&T has a right to do this, but as is often the case, what it has a legal right to do wouldn't necessarily be right. And I would hope that they don't do it, both for their sake and mine.

[Update on Wednesday morning]

For what it's worth, AT&T says not to worry:

"AT&T respects its subscribers' rights to voice their opinions and concerns over any matter they wish. However, we retain the right to disassociate ourselves from websites and messages explicitly advocating violence, or any message that poses a threat to children (e.g. child pornography or exploitation). We do not terminate customer service solely because a customer speaks negatively about AT&T. This policy is not new and it's not unique to AT&T."

I kind of assumed that was the real intent.

Posted by Rand Simberg at October 02, 2007 11:46 AM
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Am I mistaken in believing that AT&T is still considered to be a "Common Carrier". If so then they are subject to the PSC rules - at least here in Florida - probably similar elsewhere.
See what the PSC says about it because DSL runs over the common phone lines - fiber or copper.

Posted by Andy Clark at October 2, 2007 02:26 PM

By local and state government restricting competitors rights-of-way, AT&T has been handed a monopoly on communications. If the state continues to maintain massive barriers against the entry of other carriers, AT&T must be regulated as a coercive monopoly and the public allowed open access.

Posted by at October 2, 2007 03:10 PM

Its okay, if AT&T tries to shut you down for the naughty things you say, then just blame it on Tourrets disorder.

Posted by Josh Reiter at October 2, 2007 08:19 PM

Years ago, in the age of dial-up, I got an offer in the mail to change my ISP to AT&T. I read through all the boilerplate and found that, by my reading, they claimed that I granted them a copyright license, including reselling rights, to anything that went over their network, including private email. I called their sales rep and asked if my interpretation was correct. He never got back to me.

For whatever reason, they're still doing it. The lawyers write the most one-sided contract they can (their job) and management doesn't seem to have nerve enough to overrule them, even when it's obviously over the top. I guess unless they can see a direct linkage to their bottom line, they won't.

And this is at&t, the behemoth. Even if there is a direct linkage, they'll miss it.

Posted by bud at October 3, 2007 04:26 PM

I vaguely remeber what Bud is saying about the old AT&T Dial-up contracts. However, the thought accurs to me that if they force the copyright issue and the right to re-sell the stuff on their network then they are assuming responsibility for the content.

So, Lets see a good State or US Attorney go after them because they own all the scams, kiddie-porn etc on their network.

Let's see how fast their lawyers would wqriggle to get out of that one! Who knows - it might form the basis for a "Reality" TV show!

Posted by Andy Clark at October 4, 2007 04:27 AM

Beautiful girls don't mind being a porn star. Yet the ugly cried that it's women's exploitation. Why?

Posted by Jim Thio at November 4, 2007 06:30 PM

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