Pearl Jam victims of Net censorship?

AT&T webcast omits Bush-related lyrics

An honest accident, or corporate censorship?

That question dogged AT&T last week when rock band Pearl Jam yowled that the telecom giant and Internet service provider had bleeped lyrics critical of George Bush during a Lollapalooza webcast.

AT&T was quick to apologize, saying it had been a mistake and that the only reason the webcast was monitored at all was to catch profanity or indecent images going out live, accessible to anyone.

But the bleeped lyrics — “George Bush, leave this world alone,” and “George Bush, find yourself another home” — wouldn’t even make a prude blush. AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said the company had not yet spoken with the subcontracted firm that did the monitoring.

“We don’t know why it happened,” Coe said last week. “All we can say is that it shouldn’t have.”

Proponents of so-called Net Neutrality pounced on the incident as proof that ISPs won’t treat all content fairly, despite their claims to the contrary.

“How can we trust a company that promises not to interfere with content on the Internet when it has its corporate finger on the button to cut off political criticisms it doesn’t like?,” says Gigi B. Sohn, prexy of watchdog group Public Knowledge.

It didn’t help that the blow-up happened on the same day the Los Angeles Times reported that AT&T was collaborating with Hollywood and the recording industry to develop “packet-sniffing technology,” which would monitor Web traffic for pirated content.

AT&T and other ISPs routinely dismiss Net Neutrality as “a solution without a problem.”

Did the company just provide one?