AT&T disconnects whole families from the internet because someone in their house is accused of copyright infringement

It's been five years since America's super-concentrated telcoms sector announced their "voluntary Copyright Alert system" (AKA Six Strikes), a system that said that if your someone in your household was accused of six acts of copyright infringement, everyone in your house would get the internet death penalty, having your net connection terminated.

The years of inaction after the policy was enacted, lulled a lot of us into thinking that the telcos and cable companies had thought better of playing judge, jury and executioner for people's internet access, but as the years ticked by, the sector has become even more concentrated, and what was once unthinkable is now reality.

This year, AT&T was allowed to buy Time-Warner, creating a second Big Telco/Big Media chimera (the other being Comcast/Universal), whose priorities are now split between providing access and taking it away (compare with what happened when Sony bought Columbia and went from being a company that provided new ways to listen to music to a company whose mission was to restrict how you listened to music).

AT&T has now begun to disconnect customers accused of infringement — that is, accused of watching TV or listening to music in ways that are suboptimal for media companies' shareholders.

The customers who are being disconnected have never been able to face their accusers or have a day in court. The people they live with are not accused of any wrongdoing. The internet they are losing is likely the only option they have for broadband — or one of two options, with the other one likely being a cable company like Comcast who may now join AT&T in a race to the bottom.

The internet is not a video-on-demand service, it's the nervous system of the 21st century. Terminating someone from the internet terminates their access to family, education, employment, civic and political engagement, health care information, and virtually everything else we use to measure whether a society is functioning well for its citizens.

Telcoms concentration is a disaster for an information society: from price-gouging to slow fiber rollouts to censorship to Net Neutrality violations and now disconnection, the creation of a concentrated, monopolized market in the most foundational part of our lives in the 21st century is a terrible, awful idea.

When we turn the tide, we need to not just regulate the telcos, we need to break them up. Cut them into pieces so small they can no longer lobby to ban municipal broadband, so small they can't spy on whole populations, so small that they can't afford to disconnect their customers on behalf of unaccountable, unnamed rightsholders who face no penalty for false accusations or sloppy bookkeeping.

In a statement to Axios, AT&T says content owners — which could be TV networks, music rights groups, or another group involved in production — notified AT&T when they believed they had evidence that an internet connection controlled by the telecom company was sharing copyrighted material unlawfully.

"Based on the notices we received, we identified the customer on the account and shared with them the information we received. We also reached out to the customer to educate them about copyright infringement and offer assistance to help prevent the activity from continuing," said an AT&T spokesperson.

"A small number of customers who continue to receive additional copyright infringement notifications from content owners despite our efforts to educate them, will have their service discontinued."

Scoop: AT&T to cut off some customers' service in piracy crackdown [Sara Fischer and David McCabe/Axios]