Net Neutrality, Censorship, and Yet Another Example of Why We Should Care

by M. David Peterson

Update: It just keeps getting better. Or is it worse? Guess that depends on your perspective. And with that, from a Wired News article from two days ago,

Crew Member: Previous AT&T Show Had "No Politics" Policy
By Eliot Van Buskirk August 13, 2007 | 10:26:44 AM Categories: AT&T

A crew member who worked on a show webcast by AT&T confirmed that there was a policy in place to remove artists' political comments from shows before they were webcast.

"I can definitively say that at a previous event where AT&T was covering the show, the instructions were to shut it down if there was any swearing or if anybody starts getting political. Granted, they didn't say to shut down any Anti-Bush comments or anything specific to any point of view or party, but 'getting political' was mentioned."

The crew member went on to say that the order to mute political speech was issued by Davie Brown Entertainment, which had been hired by AT&T to produce the recordings.

Sure, the policy -- which AT&T initially denied was in place -- applies to all political speech, not just criticism of Bush. But most bands, when they get political, tend to lean pretty hard to the left (especially when they're on the stage of Lollapalooza, which is trying to hang onto a rebellious, "alternative" reputation).

Randall L. Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, is also the Vice-Chairman of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, and has motivation to shield Bush from criticism. And as some readers of this blog have pointed out, AT&T is free to do whatever it wants to the audio on its webcasts.

But one has to wonder whether the same political filtering policy applied to AT&T's webcasts could eventually affect to the company's portion of the internet backbone, in the absence of the net neutrality legislation it actively opposes.

PLEASE NOTE: I believe it's important I point out the fact that I personally am not Anti-Bush. In fact, I voted for him in both 2000 and 2004. Did I make a mistake in doing so? Well, that's neither here nor there as there's nothing I can do to change the past, only learn from it. Even still, as per a post I made a year ago last February,


2007-08-10 06:47:23
I think you're just muddling up issues to try and be dramatic. First of all, 'the United States' didn't do anything. AT&T did. Quite frankly, a Webcast that they distribute to me seems to be their product, and they should be free to do with it whatever they want to, including editing it however they like. The band in question would have to make contracts with AT&T that either give AT&T ownership of the product or not. If there's something in the contract that says that they band owns the content and has to be distributed as-is (no editing), then that is a contractual issue. It has NOTHING to do with the Constitution, it has to do with a product being altered. Are you suggesting that someone who makes a product or provides a service isn't free to make their product as they decide? Are you suggesting that movie directors should not be allowed to decide how to edit their works? Are you thinking that album producers are violating our rights by deciding how to edit a song?
Furthermore, there is no such thing as a right to say whatever we want, whenever we want. The Constitution gives us the rights to speak freely against our government without fear of death from it, but it does not give us the right to infringe upon others, nor to say whatever we want, whenever we want. Quite frankly, the band's name-calling seems to me to infringe upon another human being's rights, because they did not refer to him as 'President Bush', but by his 'non-Government name'. A minor distinction perhaps. But really, most of these so-called 'first amendment issues' seem to boil down to people whining about how they just want to get away with being disrespectful and rude and say whatever they want without consequences. We should have better standards than that.
2007-08-10 07:03:09
The Constitution of the United States has been optional for quite some time. Let's look at just the first article, just the first few items:

The Executive have taken over legislative powers, in contravention of Article 1 section 1, through the use of signing statements.

The enactment and extension of the PATRIOT Act has suspended habeas corpus, in contravention of Article 1, section 9.

Don't get me started on the illegal wire-tapping, rendition, and the use of non-military contractors in time of war.

Yes, David, you were wrong. I'm very sorry.

2007-08-10 16:07:05
While you are correct that AT&T's editing has nothing to do with the Constitution (the Constitution constrains the federal government's actions, not commercial entities), it seems to me that name-calling is still protected speech (as far as the government is concerned). Remember that the Bill of Rights was passed in the context of people being imprisoned for calling King George III a "tyrant." The writers were well aware that citizens may become passionately opposed to an individual or the actions of that individual, and they wanted to ensure that those citizens retained the freedom to speak their minds.

*There is no right not to be called names or insulted.* If you get into public office, you should expect and accept it. Likewise, you cannot truly *honor* the flag unless you and others are also free to *dishonor* it.

Most of these first amendment issues boil down to someone wanting to restrict what others say or write or believe. Others can argue about whether AT&T should be considered a common carrier (not supposed to exercise editorial control), but given that there is likely to be a small group of companies that could provide this functionality, I think this is an excellent example showing just why we need net neutrality. Say for example, your ISP decided to censor your favorite political commentator--would you appreciate that? If not, how is this different?