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Print 91 comment(s) - last by Icelight.. on Oct 5 at 1:04 PM

AT&T Legal Policy threatens to cancel service for criticizing AT&T and its affiliates

AT&T is one of the largest providers of mobile phone, home phone and internet access in the United States. In many areas, AT&T is the only choice for phone and data services. AT&T has updated its legal policy with new standards, which if enforced, could leave customers without service.

The new legal policy takes away a customer’s right to criticize AT&T without the fear of losing their service. In many rural areas where the only phone provider and Internet service provider is AT&T, this effectively means that any criticism of AT&T could leave them without data service. The section of the AT&T Legal Policy that takes away the customers constitutional right to free speech reads:

5.1 Suspension/Termination… [AT&T] may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.

Some will say that AT&T has the right to refuse service to anyone. At the same time, others will say that refusing service to someone for simply criticizing AT&T is infringing on the right to free speech. For many Internet access is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Many business professionals work from home and use broadband Internet access to connect to corporate networks. For those that are tied in with AT&T’s service (by choice or because there are no other options available), one should be careful not to step on AT&T’s toes or face disconnection.

Another item of note is that if AT&T decides to disconnect your service for any reason, they can delete any files you have, including emails, without notification. What is not clear from the policy is if criticizing any AT&T service can result in termination of your AT&T data service. If you get an iPhone and complain in comments here at DailyTech because the update breaks your unlocked iPhone, could you lose your AT&T data services?

Updated 10/2/2007
AT&T has issued the following statement with regards to the above policy:

AT&T respects its subscribers' rights to voice their opinions and concerns over any matter they wish. However, we retain the right to disassociate ourselves from websites and messages explicitly advocating violence, or any message that poses a threat to children (e.g. child pornography or exploitation). We do not terminate customer service solely because a customer speaks negatively about AT&T. This policy is not new and it's not unique to AT&T.



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RE: Let's Test That Theory
By aikend on 10/1/2007 11:35:45 PM , Rating: 4
Then it's a good thing you don't have a customer!

Me, as an actual business owner, I would sooner just close the business than tell my customers "better not rely on our services. If you ever say anything bad about us, even if it's justified, we'll cancel your account." I mean, what kind of idiot would continue to do business with me under those terms?

We've established that you're not a business owner. But let me ask you this as a consumer: would *you* contract for a service that you need to be reliable if the provider said you can't criticize them? Or would you look for a competitor who will be reliable even if you end up being dissatisfied for one reason or another?


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Murst on 10/2/2007 1:05:58 AM , Rating: 2
All my employers were either small or medium sized businesses. Although I've never had to experience a client voicing their dissatisfaction, I have seen the owner refuse service to a client (I won't get into details, but the client has previously done damage to a friend of the owner). As a small business, it is extremely important to have a good reputation among your clients, so even though this client was going to bring in money, it was not worth the risk.

As a business owner, I'm sure you'd attempt to resolve any issues your customers have with you. But what if an issue could not be resolved, and the customer went on to criticize your business publicly, while maintaining their contract with you. What if the customer then went on to your other customers, and attempted to convince them to switch to your competitor? Would you still service that customer?

To answer your question: If a business was so bad that I felt the need to criticize it publicly, I certainly wouldn't be using their services when I do criticize them. Such a policy would not affect me at all, and I wouldn't even consider it when evaluating a service.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Scott66 on 10/3/2007 9:58:43 PM , Rating: 2
What would you do if you had a 2 year contract with that company providing you with crappy service or you had to pay some of your hard earned revenue (wages) to cancel the contract.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By mdogs444 on 10/3/2007 10:41:19 PM , Rating: 2
If you can prove that the services offered were violations of the contract you signed, then you wont have to pay to cancel it.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By encryptkeeper on 10/2/2007 9:04:46 AM , Rating: 2
Me, as an actual business owner, I would sooner just close the business than tell my customers "better not rely on our services. If you ever say anything bad about us, even if it's justified, we'll cancel your account." I mean, what kind of idiot would continue to do business with me under those terms?

An idiot that has no other option for service. AT&T would LOVE to be back to the pre-1984 days where they dominated virtually all telecommunications in the US.

At the same time, others will say that refusing service to someone for simply criticizing AT&T is infringing on the right to free speech.

And those people are right.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Murst on 10/2/2007 10:09:58 AM , Rating: 5
Sorry, but you have got no clue about what the right to free speech is, at least in the US of A.
quote:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment's right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government, be it federal or state. Now, please explain how this "freedom of speech" is infringed upon by AT&T.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By euclidean on 10/2/2007 12:48:58 PM , Rating: 2
This is a company that you signed a contract with...not the Government.

Though i do agree it's BS, I still see where the company is coming from, and if you don't like it, you have the freedom to leave that company.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By on 10/2/2007 3:08:21 PM , Rating: 1
This may surprise you, but a 'contract' doesn't override basic constitutional rights no matter how much AT&T may wish it could.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Spivonious on 10/2/2007 3:39:23 PM , Rating: 3
AT&T is not having the police come out and arrest you for badmouthing them. They are cancelling your service with them. It is completely within their rights to do so. Read the first amendment again and show me where it says anything about a company restricting what you can say.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Oregonian2 on 10/2/2007 3:43:43 PM , Rating: 3
True, but what AT&T is doing doesn't do that. Free speech means you can speak your mind and continue doing so. You aren't kept from doing so without being stopped from doing so. However it doesn't prevent others from responding and expressing their countering opinions using their free speech rights (something Hollywood actors/actresses don't seem to understand, with their heads in the clouds). If for instance, a Newspaper refuses to print an ad you want to place. THEY are the publisher of their newspaper and anything they refuse to print is their right to print/publish what they want to. That paper is their "speech". Free speech in the constitution does not require other entities to help you get your free speech out to others, just that you can do it however you can manage. AT&T is not required to assist you get your opinions out due to constitutional mandate, although business mandates may require them to do so. I'm not a lawyer, but I play one in forums. :-)


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By SoCalBoomer on 10/2/2007 4:37:34 PM , Rating: 2
That's true - and if AT&T stops your service, you're still able to say whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want - you just can't use THEIR service to do so.

Doesn't override basic constitutional rights at all. Just means that they aren't assisting you in your speech - which isn't guaranteed.


By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 10/3/2007 12:05:32 PM , Rating: 2
However, EVEN IF THEY COULD PREVENT YOU FROM speechifying agin them, the first amendment would still not protect you. The first amendment only protects you from the FEDERAL or STATE governments from preventing your free speech, not private companies. There may be other grounds for a case in contract or even tort, but not on constitutional grounds. But, this could potentially be a Title VII case in that event, in that a group of people were attempting to prevent your exercising your constitutional rights, but not a first amendment case.

HOWEVER, if AT&T controlled your only avenue to free speech (which they probably don't but the author tries to assert here - poor rural customers) then IF a court found that AT&T was not barring free speech and could do what they want with this contract language, the fact that THE COURT rendered such a decision COULD be construed as the government acting to abridge your rights to freedom of speech, and THAT ruling might be appealed on first amendment grounds.


RE: Let's Test That Theory
By Icelight on 10/5/2007 1:04:22 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The First Amendment's right to freedom of speech allows individuals to express themselves without interference or constraint by the government, be it federal or state.


Oh, okay, so it is fine then for a business to not hire someone solely because they are of a certain religion, or skin colour. They're not government!


"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone

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