AT&T – Free & Open Internet (2009)
Outcome: Omitted by SEC
The Internet is becoming the defining infrastructure of our economy and society in the 21st century. Its potential to open markets for commerce, venues for cultural expression and modalities of civic engagement is without historic parallel.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are gatekeepers to this infrastructure: providing access, managing traffic, insuring communication, and forging rules that shape, enable and limit the public’s Internet use.
As such, ISPs have a weighty responsibility in devising network management practices. ISPs must give far-ranging thought to how these practices serve to promote–or inhibit–the public’s participation in the economy and in civil society.
Of fundamental concern is the effect ISPs’ network management practices have on public expectations of privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet.
- More than 211 million Americans–70% of the population–use the Internet;
- The Internet serves as an engine of opportunity for social, cultural and civic participation in society;
- 46% of Americans have used the internet, e-mail or text messaging to participate in the 2008 political process;
- The Internet yields significant economic benefits to society, with online U.S. retailing revenues – only one gauge of e-commerce – exceeding $200 billion in 2008;
- The Internet plays a critical role in addressing societal challenges such as provision of health care, with over 8 million Americans looking for health information online daily;
- 72% of Americans are concerned that their online behaviors are being tracked and profiled by companies;
- 54% of Americans are uncomfortable with third parties collecting information about their online behavior;
- Our Company provides Internet access to a very large number of subscribers and is considered a leading ISP;
- Our Company’s network management practices have been questioned by consumers, civil liberties groups and shareholders; specifically, AT&T was scrutinized for censoring political speech; was the focus of a BusinessWeek story discussing content monitoring; and was called before Congress to testify on these issues;
- Class action lawsuits in several states are challenging the propriety of ISPs’ network management practices;
- Internet network management is a significant public policy issue; failure to fully and publicly address this issue poses potential competitive, legal and reputational harm to our Company;
- Any perceived compromise by ISPs of public expectations of privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet could have a chilling effect on the use of the Internet and detrimental effects on society.
The shareholders request the board issue a report by October 2009, excluding proprietary and confidential information, examining the effects of the company’s Internet network management practices in the context of the significant public policy concerns regarding the public’s expectations of privacy and freedom of expression on the Internet.
One example of an issue to be examined could be the social and political effects of collecting and selling personal information to third-parties, including information companies such as First Advantage and Equifax.