AT&T issues 'censorship' mea culpa

As promised yesterday, AT&T has come across with new terms-of-use language that it hopes - a hope I share, frankly - will put to an end the tempest over the company's alleged taste for tamping down public criticism.

According to an e-mail received from AT&T an hour ago:

"AT&T will clarify the language in its Internet Terms of Service agreements to reiterate the company's commitment to freedom of speech and open dialogue...whether that be via the Internet or elsewhere on the AT&T network.

AT&T's Terms of Service follow the company's longstanding respect for our customers' freedom of speech, and clarifies that we will not terminate or suspend a customers' Internet access service based upon their political views or criticism of AT&T. Our Terms of Service and Acceptable Use Policy are designed to protect our customers, the public, and our network and the facilities used to provide service. As a responsible corporate citizen, we will review any complaints surrounding material that's in violation of the law, compromises our network, or is abusive or otherwise threatening to the safety of any individual or group.

Specifically, the adjusted language will read:

5.1 Suspension/Termination. AT&T respects freedom of expression and believes it is a foundation of our free society to express differing points of view. AT&T will not terminate, disconnect or suspend service because of the views you or we express on public policy matters, political issues or political campaigns. However, 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 (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; or (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.

We feel that the clarifying language better reflects our actual long-held policy, which respects AT&T's customers' rights to freely voice their opinions and concerns.

In addition, we are in the process of reviewing our entire Terms of Service to ensure it reflects AT&T's ongoing and unblemished commitment to freedom of expression as outlined in the language above.

Our customers are our highest priority and we regret any confusion this may have caused."

The nitpicking will begin in 5, 4, 3, 2 ... go.

(Update: Meanwhile, in another fine-print matter that is certain to have more real-life impact on more real-life AT&T customers, the company has knuckled under to pressure from the state of California and agreed that it will no longer exact payment from customers for calls made from lost or stolen cell phones. Heck, even the credit-card industry - hardly known for its compassion - doesn't try to get away with robbing the victim in such a cold-hearted way.)

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