06/14/2007 05:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

AT&T Moves to Take Over the Internet

Remember how the big phone companies tried to dismiss Net Neutrality as a "solution in search of a problem"? Well, here's the problem.

In an interview this week with the Los Angeles Times, AT&T Senior Vice President James Cicconi revealed that AT&T is developing technology designed to detect and block "pirated" films, music and other media on its Internet networks.

The announcement is a savvy way to start taking away your Internet freedom. Why savvy? Because by putting the focus on blocking "piracy" of movies, music and other copyrighted content, AT&T can win the support of powerful allies: movie studios, record labels and publishers. And hey, who supports pirates?

Problem is that this isn't really about piracy. It's about controlling video programming and discriminating against content on the Web.

Media Access Project's Harold Feld explains:

"This has no more to do with 'stopping piracy' than the NSA surveillance program under which AT&T spied on Americans was about 'national security.' This is about entrenched interests using the rhetoric of law enforcement to erode essential freedoms. Copyright holders have numerous mechanisms available to them under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). If they feel their rights are infringed by carriers, they can sue -- as Viacom has sued YouTube."

To add insult to injury, AT&T agreed to abide by Net Neutrality for two years as a condition of its merger with BellSouth at the end of 2006. Now they're trying to exploit the threat of piracy to kill off Net Neutrality for good. Ultimately, the announcement is another way to say that AT&T can and will peek into every bit of data generated by its customers and make a decision as to whether that data constitutes copyright infringement.

If that's not enough, consider that Cicconi is the same guy who was the assistant to James Baker in the Reagan Administration and staff secretary for Bush Sr. (and he sits on the board of his presidential library). While at SBC, he served on Dubya's White House transition team -- before handing thousands of Americans' private phone records over to the Pentagon. And under his leadership, SBC/AT&T broke more communications laws and rules -- and paid more FCC fines -- than just about anybody.

If we lose Net Neutrality, we lose the opportunity break the Big Media bottleneck that gives us tepid news reporting, bug-eating survivors and Muzak instead of hard-hitting journalism and thoughtful entertainment. We lose the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see any Web site be able to reach the audience of a TV network or Top 40 station.

Geoff Duncan at Digital Trends reports: "AT&T may find network-based anti-piracy technology will earn the goodwill of studios and content producers, but cost them dearly in customer satisfaction and reliability."

Of course, in AT&T's world, those customers won't have anywhere else to turn.