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Telecoms: Should Content Carriers Become Content Cops?

The thing about the so-called Information Superhighway, as it used to be so-called, was that once the telecom companies deployed the wire and fiber and wireless roads, they pretty much left businesses and consumers alone in their travels along them. That may be changing.
The thing about the so-called Information Superhighway, as it used to be so-called, was that once the telecom companies deployed the wire and fiber and wireless roads, they pretty much left businesses and consumers alone in their travels along them. That may be changing.A piece in the San Jose Mercury News this weekend took a long look at AT&T's growing interest in providing content-filtering network security services.

On the one hand, a service aimed at freeing customers from the petabytes of spam (and worse) that flood our queues is a good thing on first, and second and probably third glance.

On the other hand -- one that free-speech and privacy advocates are increasingly wringing -- there is gathering concern that consolidation of security and filtering/blocking under a carrier's umbrella, or a service provider's, puts all the cards in the carriers' and providers' hands, letting them stack the deck against the sort of unrestrained anything-goes freedom that has been for many the Internet's greatest virtue.

At present, this one is playing out on the business pages, with AT&T arguing that it's in a prime position to protect your network as well as its own, as company chief security officer explained in this interview with the Mercury-News.

But, along with other developments such as some access providers metering Internet use, or the recent announcement that service providers would begin actively blocking child pornography sites, not to mention ongoing legal issues and debates (some at the top of the lungs) over telecom prosecution immunity for surveillance services, it's clear that the relationships of carriers and providers to content and traffic is in flux, and likely to be so for some time.

And undoubtedly to be so in courtrooms and legislatures as well as on the business pages and in the corridors of industry conferences.

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