AT&T Terms of Service changed, then unchanged for third-party video

Like a cheap tent or a clamshell phone, AT&T has folded on a Terms of Service change made earlier this week that would have prohibited prohibits "customer initiated redirection of television or other video or audio signals via any technology from a fixed location to a mobile device," lumping such streams in with peer-to-peer movie downloads and videocasting.

That language seemed to be directed most closely to Sling, which redirects signals from your television (programs, DVR recordings, digital radio) to another net-enabled recipient -- in the case of the cusp-of-release SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, to the popular Apple handset.

Theories about why AT&T would introduce that specific ToS language were all over the Net this afternoon. One of the most benign trains of thought holds that AT&T's looking for a way to hold customers responsible for bizarre streaming overcharges, such as that in the case of the Chicago man who managed to incur a $28,000 AT&T bill for streaming a hometown football game while he was in Miami. (Bears won; after a local consumer reporter intervened on his behalf, so did the man, paying under $300.)

Others see a net neutrality problem with a change of service such as that. As phones become more capable, wireless carriers start to confront the bandwidth-usage problems that have caused Comcast and the like to complain that video -- video not making extra money for the carrier, anyway -- is a terrible and onerous strain on capacity.

AT&T's got MobiTV, for what that clip-happy service is worth, but to a Slingbox user (especially one who's upgraded specifically to use the service with their iPhone) it's definitely not worth $10/month compared to the appealing Sling price of free-with-purchase. The whole mess also bears a strong resemblance to current efforts by AT&T and other carriers to block Skype use on their 3G networks.

Late Friday afternoon, AT&T released a public statement: "The language added on March 30 to AT&T's wireless data service Terms and Conditions was done in error. It was brought to our attention and we have since removed it. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused." Gizmodo, republishing the "oopsie" language, was succinct in its appraisal: "Raise your hand if this BS smells like roses to you."

(And on that note, your writer comments: That sound you hear, iPhone users? The laughter and the mean remarks? Those are coming from everyone who figured out that a phone company that would cheerfully allow NSA surveillance of its customers would probably do other nasty high-handed things, and who walked away from the trendoid gadget 'til a better carrier comes along... or what passes for one until it too decides that it's only fun to pretend to be the Internet if you don't actually have to behave like a responsible part of it. I'm not saying that other phone carriers have behaved more responsibly, though in fact they have. But really, you knew what you were getting into bed with when you put on those Apple-branded jammies. I'm happy for you that the company's stepped down on this onerous change to their Terms of Service, but it's yet another thing you'll want to keep an eye on with these guys. Speaking of BS.)

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