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October 2, 2007

AT&T New Terms of Service for DSL Raise Questions

Ars Technica is reporting on a slick move by AT&T.  The story highlights AT&T's new Terms of Service which give the company the power to terminate the DSL service of anyone who "tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries."  As the story and other commentators have pointed out, there doesn't have to be any actual damage.   The word "tends" suggests that the interpretation is theirs rather than the customer's. 

Many people have a dim view of AT&T over its alleged collusion with the government by turning over customer data without the benefit of a warrant or court order.  The view was dim enough to spawn a lawsuit in San Francisco.  So far the company and the government haven't been able to get the courts to halt the suit on state secret grounds.  AT&T is lobbying Congress to get retroactive immunity for it's conduct which kind of implies that something fishy is going on.  But that's for the courts to decide, if they actually get the opportunity.

There are other positions or actions the company takes that rankle individuals.  There's the whole net neutrality thing where AT&T suggested less than subtly that the big web sites such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and other content centers should be paying them to use the network.  This is not unlike cell phone service where both customers pay for the same call.  When the FTC, FCC, and the Justice Department came out against net regulations as premature, the company promptly censored anti-Bush comments made by Pearl Jam during the webcast of the most recent Lollapalooza in Grant Park, Chicago.  That was due an overzealous subcontractor managing the broadcast.  Sorry, our bad. 

And then there's the hostility to Google over the latter's interest in a prime chunk of wireless real estate coming up for auction in January.  If Google ever got hold of that spectrum, it could have a negative affect on AT&T's business model.  AT&T famously told Google to put up or shut up.  The old phrase "be careful what you wish for" comes to mind.  Either way, Google is getting good publicity out of the process as being more consumer oriented than any of the telcos.  And the irony is that nothing has happened yet.   

Once the new terms were reported, AT&T responded that it doesn't casually disconnect corporate critics.  The terms are meant to disassociate the company from bad stuff, like hate sites or content that threatened children.  Nonetheless, as Ars points out, they never said never.  I wonder if Eddie Vedder gets his Internet access through AT&T/Yahoo.  There might be some fallout there.  And while we're at it, check out this story on how the company plans to sniff out pirate media. 

October 2, 2007 | Permalink

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