A tale of two neutralities

Much as it is further evidence of why it’s never a good idea to assume that corporations and freedom of expression go together, I’m not too sure on the link between the AT&T/Pearl Jam fuss and the net neutrality question. As far as I can see, what AT&T did (in changing/filtering/censoring/sanitising the performance) was nothing to do with any of their telecom/carrier functions, but was more along the lines of what broadcasters have been doing for years. Sure, AT&T is not a broadcaster, but in this case they were acting 100% ‘as a broadcaster’ – it wasn’t that they were using their power as ISP/telco to carry out censorship functions.

The question is this. Would any of the proposals for legislative or regulatory reform have prevented this? If not (and I do suspect the answer is no), then it is an issue that highlights the bad faith and you’re-all-the-same-evil-corporation-nature of AT&T, rather than something that will actually prove the case for action on neutrality. Indeed, I’d worry that overstating the case in this fashion may confuse the matter. I am extremely concerned about the power of corporations like AT&T and their ability to control expression and culture, and I’m also interested in the legal and political issues surrounding net neutrality – but I’m sceptical of an automatic link.

On the other hand, I do see some interesting neutrality issues on the horizon emerging from the shape-throwing over the BBC iPlayer, and more specifically the desire of ISPs to shake down the BBC for the added traffic. If they follow through on this, I think the core fears of the US net neutrality lobbyists will be an active part of the British debate, in a much more significant fashion than to date.

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