AT&T blocks image-sharing site

Decision sparks net neutrality row

AT&T on Sunday blocked sections of the popular image-based bulletin board, adding more fuel to the debate over network neutrality.

Website 4chan.org reported Sunday that AT&T subscribers could not access certain portions of its bulletin boards. And AT&T spokesperson confirmed to Central Gadget that the carrier was blocking portions of the site because they were "following the practices of their policy department." AT&T declined to provide a more specific explanation for why it decided to block portions of the site, although it did say it had specific reason for doing so.

While AT&T says that it contacted 4chan.org before blocking the site, 4chan.org founder Christopher "moot" Poole said that as of yesterday the company hadn"t contacted him. Poole also advised 4chan users to "call or write customer support and corporate immediately" to complain about the blocking.

Although AT&T restored access to the site late last night, its decision to block 4chan.org has sparked a fresh row in the network neutrality debate. Erling L√łken Andersen, the CEO of the Norwegian social networking site Biip.no, said that AT&T was "firing one of the first shots in the net neutrality war" by blocking the site. Meanwhile, the Tech Herald reported that several users took AT&T's actions to be related to network neutrality and not related to legitimate network management concerns.

Broadly speaking, net neutrality is the principle that ISPs should not be allowed to block or degrade internet traffic from their competitors in order to speed up their own. The major telcos have uniformly opposed net neutrality by arguing that such government intervention would take away ISPs' incentives to upgrade their networks, thus stalling the widespread deployment of broadband internet.

But despite the telcos' objections, the US government has explicitly endorsed net neutrality principles in its latest notice. In addition to requiring applicants to follow the 2005 FCC policy statement, the rules explicitly state that applicants are not allowed to "favour any lawful internet applications or content over others". The rules do make exceptions for companies that want to offer their own managed services such as telemedicine and long-distance learning, but they also state that such services must use private connections or virtual private networks instead of the public internet.

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