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8/20/2007
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FCC Commissioner Connects Pearl Jam Censorship To Net Neutrality

Michael Copps' comments come on the heels of an AT&T Webcast that omitted criticisms of President Bush.

A Federal Communications Commissioner said that the censoring of political speech during a recent Pearl Jam performance illustrates the need for network neutrality.

Commissioner Michael Copps made the comments, about an AT&T Webcast, during an interview with Matt Stoller last week. During a live performance that was streamed online earlier this month, AT&T did not air certain words of Pearl Jam's ballad "Daughter," which was sung to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." The Webcast version of the concert deleted the words: "George Bush, leave this world alone."

Stoller, a blogger and political activist who advocates for net neutrality, was one of several people who claimed the situation showed why the United States needs net neutrality laws.

AT&T defended itself against such claims, stating that the cuts were accidental and had nothing to do with Internet policy. AT&T said that it does not approve of censoring concerts broadcast in its Blue Room, except for obscenity since there are no age restrictions for entering the site.

During the interview with Stoller, Copps said there is nothing to prevent AT&T or other companies from censoring material they distribute over the Internet, whether the censorship is deliberate or not.

"Events like this are connected to the larger issue of network neutrality so it is very, very important," said Copps, who is one of five commissioners appointed by the president. "I think you're dealing here with a technology that's perhaps the most dynamic and liberating, maybe in all of human history, with the Internet and our challenge is to keep that open and accessible to folks and running in a neutral fashion, and to avoid those who may be in control of the distribution of that technology from also controlling the content on it. So when something like the episode occurs with Pearl Jam that you're referencing, that ought to concern all of us."

Proponents of net neutrality state that, without such laws, Internet services providers, telecommunications companies, and cable franchises can favor their own content and block or slow content from those with competing businesses or views.

Critics claim that net neutrality is a misnomer, large companies should be able to pay extra for a "fast lane" on the Internet, and higher prices would allow for more investments in infrastructure. They claim that legislation ensuring that content can be accessed by Internet users with equal speed regardless of its origin would actually stifle competition and innovation.

After AT&T said the Pearl Jam incident was an isolated mistake made by third-party content monitors, other music fans claimed political speech had been cut from Blue Room broadcasts of other bands. AT&T then acknowledged that the problem may have occurred and gone unnoticed in a few other instances.

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