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Standing up to the Power of AT&T

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Message Barry Tevelow

It was recently reported that the Lollopalooza Concert in Chicago on Sunday, August 5, 2007 had been simulcast live on the Internet. The webcast went fine without a hitch until Pearl Jam member Eddie Vedder started discussing the policies of the Bush administration. Suddenly, the webcast was interrupted. A few minutes later, after Vedder ceased expressing his opinion, the webcast once again began transmitting. AT&T, the sponsor and operator of the webcast, stated that this was just a mistake and not any form of censorship.

I decided to try to get to the bottom of this mix up and ended up corresponding with AT&T Corporate Issues Spokesman Mr. Michael Coe. Yup, a mistake had been made and AT&T was trying to see if Pearl Jam would allow the transmission to be repeated in its entirety. As of 8/9/07 the webcast has not been fixed nor was there any apology to We the People for the apparent restriction of Vedder’s first amendment right.


While I had Mr. Coe’s attention I decided to ask a few other questions. What is AT&T’s position on net neutrality? His response and I quote, “AT&T supports an open internet and agrees with the FCC guidelines that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice; to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement; to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.” Ahh…. In other words information will be restricted to those who can afford to pay for it.

Finally I asked Mr. Coe about turning over an individual’s private phone records? To this question he responded that, “We do not comment on matters of national security.” I see.

Mr. Coe may feel that his responses should satisfy my concerns. However it appears to me that AT&T has subverted free speech, that they are not in favor of free and equal access to the Internet and that it’s ok to turn over private information if you are able to mouth the words “national security”. It may surprise Mr. Coe but I am not satisfied with his response.

I am therefore going to make a change in my behavior in order to reflect my concerns. It may cause some inconvenience however I’ve decided to discontinue using my Cingular (now AT&T) cell phone. I will need to stop my service, get a new phone with a new plan from a new vendor. And when I shop for a new vendor I’m going to have questions for the salespeople like, how does your employer feel about censorship, net neutrality and the constitution. If one of the top tier companies gives a satisfactory answer (which I’m hopeful) I’ll buy their plan. If not, I’ll have to go to a secondary market to search for satisfactory answers. This may mean I won’t have as good of service for my cell phone. It may even mean I give up my cell phone. Oh well, some things like the rights of We the People guaranteed in the Constitution, may actually be worth giving up my cell phone.

If our elected officials (or are they the pawns of corporations) will not protect our constitutionally guaranteed rights then we will need to protect ourselves through the decisions we make and the entities with whom we choose to interact.

What a sacrifice. I’m sure the founders would be impressed

No boycott, just a change in the way we perceive the world and the willingness to act upon our beliefs.

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The author has  founded a non-profit organization, published a newsletter, and conducted Socrates Cafe dialogues.  He is an independent writer, activist and will respond to inquiries.

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