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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 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.

“So far we have not seen a single Android device that does not infringe on our patents." -- Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith
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