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AT&T censors Pearl Jam, sparking up net neutrality debate

What does Pearl Jam have to do with net neutrality?After AT&T censored a supposedly live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert, in which Eddie Vedder tossed off a couple of anti-Bush ad libs during a cover of Pink Floyd's "The Wall," the band complained bitterly not only about censorship but about media consolidation and the risks of not having net neutrality.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor on

What does Pearl Jam have to do with net neutrality?

After AT&T censored a supposedly live webcast of a Pearl Jam concert, in which Eddie Vedder tossed off a couple of anti-Bush ad libs during a cover of Pink Floyd's "The Wall," the band complained bitterly not only about censorship but about media consolidation and the risks of not having net neutrality.

The band sang "George Bush, leave this world alone" and "George Bush, find yourself another home," but viewers of AT&T's Blue Room live webcast from Lollapalooze didn't hear those lines. The company told the band that their "content monitor" made a mistake in bleeping them.

On their website, Pearl Jam wrote a bitter response:

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of "NetNeutrality."

Most telecommunications companies oppose "net neutrality" and argue that the public can trust them not to censor. Even the ex-head of AT&T, CEO Edward Whitacre, whose company sponsored our troubled webcast, stated just last March that fears his company and other big network providers would block traffic on their networks are overblown..

But what if there is only one provider from which to choose?

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations - fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it's about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

Public interest groups agree, reports Ars Technica. Here's Art Brodsky from Public Knowledge:

AT&T is really getting into its role as content nanny in a big way. First, it starts monitoring all sorts of conversations for the National Security Agency. Then it promises to work with the movie studios and NBC to come up with some super software to tag copyrighted material that flows through its network, regardless of how that content is used. Now it puts 'content monitors' on its Webcasts.

AT&T responded that the censorship was a mistake -- by a vendor not AT&T -- and that AT&T's own policy is simply not to censor. Spokesman Brad Mays:

[The censorship was a] mistake by a webcast vendor and contrary to our policy. We have policies in place with respect to editing excessive profanity, but AT&T does not edit or censor performances.

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