AT&T, Leave This Signal Alone

At the start of the month I took a roadtrip down to Chicago (four of us crammed into a Pontiac Sunfire, which remarkably only used about one tank of gas each way) for Lollapalooza, a 3-day music festival. The bands are only part of the reason we went; it’s also a great excuse to see a city that Torontonians sometimes idolize. One of Chicago’s greatest achievements is a giant waterfront park (Grant Park) right downtown which is where the concert takes place, using the impressive windy city skyline as a backdrop.

The headliner of this year’s festival was Pearl Jam, one of the only rock bands to have survived the Seattle grunge movement. They put on an amazing show, and were a great way to end the weekend. During the song Daughter, frontman Eddie Vedder started singing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part II, “teacher leave those kids alone,” then changed the lyrics to “George Bush leave this world alone / George Bush leave this world alone / George Bush find yourself another home.” For those of us there in the moment it was just the right amount of politics and inspired cheers from the mostly-American crowd, fed-up with the crimes being committed in their name.

Those who weren’t there, however–who were instead watching the concert via web-stream–didn’t hear those lyrics. I found this entry on the Pearl Jam website yesterday:

After concluding our Sunday night show at Lollapalooza, fans informed us that portions of that performance were missing and may have been censored by AT&T during the “Blue Room” Live Lollapalooza Webcast…

…This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T’s actions strike at the heart of the public’s concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Aspects of censorship, consolidation, and preferential treatment of the internet are now being debated under the umbrella of “NetNeutrality…” Most telecommunications companies oppose “net neutrality” and argue that the public can trust them not to censor.

Even the ex-head of AT&T, CEO Edward Whitacre, whose company sponsored our troubled webcast, stated just last March that fears his company and other big network providers would block traffic on their networks are overblown..

“Any provider that blocks access to content is inviting customers to find another provider.” (Marguerite Reardon, Staff Writer, CNET Published: March 21, 2006, 2:23 PM PST).

But what if there is only one provider from which to choose?

If a company that is controlling a webcast is cutting out bits of our performance -not based on laws, but on their own preferences and interpretations – fans have little choice but to watch the censored version.

What happened to us this weekend was a wake up call, and it’s about something much bigger than the censorship of a rock band.

The full, uncensored performance of Daughter can be watched here. A comparison of the censored and uncensored versions is here.

3 thoughts on “AT&T, Leave This Signal Alone

  1. Forgive the slightly off-topic comment, Chris, but I just wanted to thank you for not belabouring the fact that you had to actually DRIVE somewhere! It was actually refreshing to see another Green Party member who doesn’t feel the need to apologize profusely for simply getting into a car.
    Our culture has developed around the ubiquity of the automobile and culture-change (like climate-change) doesn’t happen overnight, so we all need to cut ourselves just a little slack when it comes to real-world transportation in 2007.
    2008 and beyond is a different matter!

  2. Colin,

    It’s more important to see the issue as one of car *owernship* rather than car *usage*. If we were “agressive” enough in car sharing and ride sharing, we could cut the car usage by a factor of 3 or 4 by filling up all those empty passenger seats. This goes again hand in hand with the shift the greens wants Canada to make from an industrial to a service economy.

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