AT&T admits it censored other bands

AT&T has apparently deleted portions of other bands' performances, the company admitted.

It looks like Pearl Jam isn't the only band that has had its politically charged comments bleeped from concerts streamed from AT&T's Blue Room Web site.

AT&T issued a statement on Friday admitting that this kind of thing has happened before. And the company once again apologized.

"It's not our intent to edit political comments in Webcasts on attblueroom.com," the company said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it has happened in the past in a handful of cases. We have taken steps to ensure that it won't happen again."

Exactly how many performances have been edited is unknown. AT&T hasn't specified. Nor has it said what exactly it's doing to ensure that this won't happen again.

A firestorm of protest ignited last week when it became public that AT&T had deleted portions of the Pearl Jam performance at the Lollapalooza concert that included anti-Bush lyrics in a song. AT&T quickly apologized for the incident and blamed the company that handles the Webcasting for performances on Blue Room.

But then Wired.com reported Friday that it had received an e-mail stating that Webcasts from the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in June had also been edited. Specifically, comments made during the John Butler Trio show when a band member remarked on the government's lack of response during Hurricane Katrina were deleted, as were comments from the group Flaming Lips about George Bush screwing up.

MTV.com also reported Monday that Pearl Jam's publicist was notified that a fan watching the Bonnaroo concert also claims that comments made by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine had also been edited.

AT&T originally said that it only edits Blue Room Webcasts for profanity since the site is available to all age groups. But a group calling itself the Future of Music Coalition, counted 20 instances of curse words being used during the Pearl Jam Webcast that were not censored by the content monitor.

"It's clear AT&T has not made a mistake. They or the companies they've hired to monitor Webcasts have engaged in a clear and consistent pattern of silencing free speech," Jenny Toomey, executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, said in a statement.

The Future of Music Coalition is a not-for-profit collaboration between members of the music, technology, public policy and intellectual property law communities. And the group took AT&T's latest admission of censoring other bands as an opportunity to point out the need for new Net Neutrality laws to prevent AT&T and other phone companies from having too much control over content.

"This censorship speaks to the heart of plans by AT&T and other big telecoms to set themselves up as gatekeepers of Internet content," Toomey continued. "If AT&T can't be trusted to Webcast the political stage banter of a few rock bands, why would we turn the keys to the Internet over to them? Their promises to not block Internet content now ring hollow."

I have to agree with the Future of Music Coalition. But to be honest, I am utterly shocked to discover that AT&T would be so stupid. It's one thing to ratchet back bandwidth to degrade service of a competitor. That could be tough to prove. But when you blatantly bleep political speech, people notice and they're going to get angry.

And to be honest, I can't see any business-related reason for doing such a thing. Could the Bush administration really be so sensitive about what a few rock bands are saying that they pressure AT&T to censor their performances? If that's the case, then I'm really worried. Because this country has bigger problems to deal with than Eddie Vedder or any other rock star slamming George W. Bush.

 

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