Thursday, January 10, 2008

AT&T 'Ready to Filter' the Web

During a panel discussion at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, AT&T’s top lobbyist said the company was ready to implement new technologies that would allow it to inspect and filter Web traffic.

James Cicconi, AT&T’s senior vice president for external and legal affairs, said that the time was right to start filtering for content at the network level. “We think a network-based solution is the optimal way to approach this,” Cicconi said, according to a New York Times reporter who attended the panel.

It’s no secret that major ISPs have been working with technology companies such as Cisco to filter content with deep-packet-inspection software. Last year, AT&T revealed its plans to work with MPAA, RIAA and broadcasters to use and deploy “digital fingerprinting techniques.

According to public statements, their rationale for playing traffic cop is to ferret out pirated content: sniffing through our digital packets for material that infringe on copyright.

Can You Trust the Filter?

But the technology can be used for other purposes, and the phone giant has shown that it has no qualms invading our communications to hand over our private records to government, or censor speech or block service “without prior notice and for any reason or no reason.”

AT&T has also touted plans to become gatekeepers to the Web with public relations bromides about “shaping” Web traffic to better serve the needs of an evolving Internet.

In reality, Cicconi and his cohorts within the entertainment industry are waging a quiet campaign to control how video and other rich content gets distributed via the Web. The popular trend in video, however, is streaming in the opposite direction. More and more people are becoming their own creators and distributors of homespun video content. YouTube now boasts more than 100 million views each day, but it is just the beginning of this revolution.

Peer-to-peer traffic is spreading via popular technologies like BitTorrent and Gnutella, which allow users to upload and share videos, music and other rich media without a middleman or content gatekeeper. The bulk of this traffic is legal.

Peer-to-Peer Traffic ‘Not Acceptable’

Also at the Las Vegas panel was NBC Universal’s general counsel Rick Cotton, who told the Times that the volume of peer-to-peer traffic online was “overwhelming.”

“That clearly should not be an acceptable, continuing status,” Cotton said, and AT&T seems more than happy to step in.

These executives’ vision of a better Internet ” AT&T’s “Your World Delivered” ” is not one that is shared by the more than 1.5 million people who have spoken out in favor of a neutral, open and free-flowing Internet.

For us, the Internet isn’t about one company delivering our world or filtering our content. It’s about simply offering a high-speed connection at reasonable rates ” and then getting out of our way.

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