AT&T Is Asking Us To Trust Them


By Joe Campbell
April 23rd, 2011

Earlier this week, I noticed a bit of traffic hitting an old post of mine about AT&T’s unlikely sponsorship of libertarian ideologues as they attempt to stop net neutrality. (Unlikely given their history of constantly pleading for government intervention in their favor.) I followed the source to the AT&T’s forum but could find no link leading back to my rather critical post about AT&T.

So, today, I decided to check on what had happened. I didn’t see any easy way to contact the people posting or the moderators, so I posted myself asking if anyone knew what had happened. Tifa_Shines “answered” my question by censoring my link as “spam.”

Her message to me justifying her censorship said:

Links to material that contains political discussion and/or promotion of third party websites are violating the guidelines and will be removed.

And further that it is “inappropriate” and “unacceptable” to:

discuss[…] participant bans or other Moderator actions

I replied thanking her for “answering” my question — and that post was subsequently deleted. In my 5 minutes as a member of AT&T’s Community Forum, I discovered at least 2 rules:

  • Thou shalt not discuss the political activities AT&T engages in rather than providing decent service.
  • Thou shalt not discuss when AT&T censors you so as better to maintain the fiction of a ‘Community’ Forum.

Knowing that links AT&T, for whatever their reason, did not approve of were labeled “not relevant” and “spam,” I went back to the original page that was the source of traffic and found the offending, censored post — attempting to put AT&T’s bandwidth caps in the context of it’s efforts to fight net neutrality and their history of attacking every innovation from the Hush-A-Phone to the internet in their quest to create “the perfect system” without being distracted by that terrible thing called competition, and coincidentally, extracting the maximum profit from their customers.

In the scheme of things, the injustice of this censorship is rather small. AT&T is a private company and they can do whatever they want in a private forum that they run. Even the Westboro Baptist Church has rights.

But AT&T, by opposing net neutrality, is asking that we as a people trust them to not censor the internet.

They are asking for permission to change the structure of the internet by violating one of it’s foundational principles — net neutrality. (A principle that AT&T coincidentally opposed when government scientists were attempting to create the internet in the 1950s.)

They are asking that we trust them to not make websites that disagree with them slower and making those they approve of faster.

They are asking that we trust them as an ISP to provide access to content that criticizes them.

They are asking that we trust them not to quash the next disruptive technology that will use the internet in ways we haven’t yet thought of or that will be even better than the internet.

Their sordid history of pleading for special favors from the government to destroy any opponent or innovator (as detailed in many places, but most memorably and recently, in Tim Wu’s The Master Switch) — and their attempts to strangle the internet before it even existed — gives us little reason to trust them.

Their bankrolling of former libertarian economists and thinkers such as Adam D. Thierer (who before they sold out were vicious critics of AT&T) to lie about net neutrality gives us little reason to trust them.

AT&T’s attempts to game the political system with a “slush fund” sponsoring what former VP and Director of Communications, Dick Martin, called “so-called ‘grassroots’ organizations all over the place, astroturfing the countryside” give us little reason to trust them.

That various people AT&T has sponsored (including Grover Norquist) have now joined up with right wing religious fanatics to oppose net neutrality on the grounds that it will prevent the censorship of “obscenity and other objectionable content,” is yet another reason not to trust AT&T.

To summarize, AT&T is making the argument that they should be trusted as a steward of the internet and that the government should not allowed to protect one of the foundational principles of the internet that has made it a libertarian utopia of competition and free markets in the name of…libertarianism. Yet it’s history and current incarnation betray a culture of censorship and anti-competitive behavior that extends down to an Orwellian policing of it’s ‘Community’ Forum — labeling links it disagrees with as “Spam” and forbidding any discussion of it’s own censorship.

If it succeeds in overturning net neutrality, how much longer will it be before any website criticizing them is labeled as spam — just as a link to my blogpost criticizing them was? And how long before any attempt to discuss such labeling will be forbidden as against the user agreement you accept by getting your internet through AT&T?

Mad? Want to do something? Take a moment and email your Congressperson today to tell them how important net neutrality is to you.

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12 Responses to “AT&T Is Asking Us To Trust Them”

  1. bubbba (Bill Van) Says:

    Not sure if my post on the AT&T forum was the start of this article or not. But, it is so true. If AT&T can’t respond to a small amount of criticism on a “Community” forum that they operate how will it be when they have their heavy hand on the internet as a whole. If they get their wish, anyone who is unfortunate enough to use their service as an access point to the internet will need to follow ‘Their’ rules and only go where ‘They’ allow. This is not the internet we should hope for. It needs to remain free from censorship and outside influences as well as from companies who have nothing to gain but more profits. Profits are fine, but profits can not be the driving force behind the net. The Internet should not be about some companies bottom-line. The Internet is, and should always be, for ‘Everyone’; You, Me, even AT&T, and NO one should be excluded. We need to support all efforts to keep Net Neutrality, or we will lose a great resource forever. Let your Congressperson and Senator know you want them to fight, and fight hard to keep the Internet free and open.

    Lets hope that this comment does not get censured… Kidding of course.

  2. bubbba (Bill Van) Says:

    Joe, I was so worked up over AT&T I posted the comment and forgot to mention: This is a nice article and you did an outstanding job. I have read many of your articles and what I like it that you don’t just state facts, you have links to much of what you are referring to. It makes for a great deal of reading but allows the reader to research as they read. I like it.

  3. James Says:

    They have full rights to censor you on their community forums as you are not contributing anything to the community. However outside of their community forums they have no say. Your blog overly sensational and full of slippery slope fallacies.
    Not to say ATT isn’t bad, but you’ve presented no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

  4. not_a_shill_like_James Says:

    Suck_it_shill.

  5. not_a_shill_like_James Says:

    James,

    SUX_IT_SHILL.

  6. Joe Campbell Says:

    @bubba,

    Agreed re. net neutrality. And thanks for the compliments. I’d recommend The Master Switch — not just about AT&T, but about the information industry in America. I just finished it last week. An excellent book.

    @James,

    You’re solinov on reddit I guess? And here you’re posting links to eyecreamreview review sites? You clearly didn’t actually read the post when you commented on reddit — or respond to my comments to you on reddit — but it’s kind of funny that some hours you later posted the same comments on here as well (still without reading).

  7. bubbba (Bill Van) Says:

    James wrote:
    They have full rights to censor you on their community forums as you are not contributing anything to the community. However outside of their community forums they have no say. Your blog overly sensational and full of slippery slope fallacies.
    Not to say ATT isn’t bad, but you’ve presented no evidence to substantiate such a claim.

    Bubbba Replies:
    James you are correct, it is their forum and they can dictate the rules. But, people have gone to this venue which they have created and advertised as a ‘Support Forum”. The only support that was given (by them), on the issue at hand, was absolutely no information. The lack of support only incensed many of the users to begin to speculate. This speculation created even more tension. The censuring problem on their forum could have been avoided if they would just give the customers the answers they were ‘nicely’ asking for. There would have been no reason to censure anyone.

    Now, after being a member of this forum for several weeks I started to see an even larger issue. If AT&T will not discuss issues that concern their loyal customers, how will it be when they have complete control over their customers internet content. This, in my opinion, is the greater issue, not caps or bandwidth usage. Net Neutrality is a very important issue that everyone should focus on. No matter which side you are on. Censuring can be bad for everyone. We need to always be allowed to see ‘Both’ sides of the coin, no matter who we are. This will affect everyone, not just one side or the other.

  8. bubbba (Bill Van) Says:

    Joe, thanks for the recommendation of ‘The Master Switch’. I will certainly take a look at it. Is it about the ‘History’ of the information industry, or does it cover current issues? Not saying that History is not important, sometimes it’s the key to predicting the future. I will definitely give it a read through. I am, and will be; doing quite a bit of reading on both sides of this issue.

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