A simple move by AT&T to block part of a website which most of us have never seen may spark a broad debate over how we get access to the internet.
4chan is more than a home for crude images; it is also a hub of online mavens and connectors – part community, part cultural incubator. Now-ubiquitous internet themes and memes – like the phrase “epic fail,” those “I can has cheezburger?” LOL cats, and of course, the Rickroll – all originated on 4chan’s message boards before spreading to all corners of the internet. So when AT&T partially pulled the plug on access to some parts of 4chan for their DSL subscribers, it was only a matter of time before word was spread far and wide (digitally, at least).
DailyKos actually has a pretty good timeline on what happened as well as the ongoing conversation – much of which includes calls to action against AT&T. Lost among the various accounts is a report – mentioned in a 4chan community alert on YouTube – that AT&T may have blocked sections of the site due to child pornography. And when AT&T finally announced the reasoning behind the shutdown, they blamed hacker attacks that appeared to be originating from a 4chan IP address.
Either way, the controversy has stirred up the debate over net neutrality – the idea that the government would make it illegal for an internet provider, like AT&T, to regulate internet traffic by prioritizing some destinations or users. Of course, if the service provider isn’t acting as the traffic cop, someone will – which will make entities like Google and Facebook more influential in what content you see (which is a big reason companies like Google tend to love net neutrality).
The debate is, however, moot in many ways. Very passionate members of the 4chan community – as well as their sympathizers – discussed ways to take action and make their voices heard, including the contact information of top AT&T executives. Regardless of what federal regulations are or are not in place, nothing moves a company like dissatisfied customers.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I work for a company whose parent company has AT&T as a client. Though I have offered strategic advice on the account, including offering my take on some of the issues discussed above, I’ve never executed any actual projects for them.)