This seems to be going largely unnoticed, except in the corners of the internet where 17 year-olds reign. And there's reason for it to be unnoticed: the self-proclaimed "victims" are unsympathetic, juvenile, voracious and sometimes dangerous.
AT&T just decided to shut off access, indefinitely, to much of its subscriber base to the 4chan website. They did so, they claim, for reasons that many -- most, even -- might consider reasonable. The problem is, in doing so, AT&T has declared and demonstrated that they have the right and ability to determine what their cable internet subscribers can and cannot access.
In other words, they've just rolled out the implementation of censoring the internet; they've done it, targeting a site based on their own judgement.
What did AT&T just do? It seems they shut off access for many of their subscribers to the server img.4chan.org -- the famous 4chan website. How? Any requests from any of their DSL subscribers to this website simply are discarded within the AT&T network.
For operating websites, 4chan is about as repulsive to normal American adults as imaginable. The site is famous for starting internet memes (like lolcats, the "Chocolate Rain" video), largely from mockery and derision, which becomes firestorm intense, and spreads to other discussion groups. However, members also formulate and drive targeted harrassment campaigns. Recently, denizens of 4chan targeted a New Jersey ebay seller who had acted with questionable business ethics toward one of his buyers; the 4chan members bombarded the seller's website with a distributed-denial-of-service attack, bringing it down; targeted his website service provider with a DDoS, bringing it down; hung posters of the seller's picture in his neighborhood stating he was a child molester; had delivered to his home 25000 UPS boxes, pizzas, prostitutes; constantly telephoned his home, cell and place of business.
According to 4chan readers who have contacted AT&T customer service, this is not accidental, but was a conscious decision by AT&T. (Follow details from the 4chan twitter channel). AT&T customer service is telling them that AT&T is shutting down access to 4chan, because AT&T customers are contributing to a DDOS attack on 4chan servers; thus to save the use of AT&T bandwidth, as well as save 4Chan, AT&T has indefinitely shut off access to 4chan through its network. (Most likely if such a DDoS attack is occurring, it is occurring from AT&T subscriber's computers which have been compromised, and taken over by remote user -- a not-unusual occurrence).
The reason this is not a credible excuse is, first, such an attack is a puny fraction of the total bandwidth through the AT&T network; second a DDoS attack is not exactly a rare occurrence -- they happen all the time (unfortunately), and yet AT&T has never shut off access to any other website when this was occurring. Clearly, they decided to deploy it against this disorganized bunch of basically irresponsible teenagers, because they don't have a lawyer to protect them, and they won't have a sympathetic public rushing to their defense.
What I believe we are seeing here are the stretching of AT&T's claims to what they can and cannot censor on the internet. By shutting off access to many of its customers to a specific website, AT&T declares they are not a neutral conduit (like the phone company is) delivering without filter whatever information has been requested, and it has seized the opportunity to demonstrate that they have the ability and the legal standing to determine what sites their subscribers can and cannot see.
This is a huge step forward in the end of net neutrality.
Additional details in the Encyclopedia Dramatica entry.
Update 1: 8:04am Mon July 27 2009 This was a big topic, with many posts, on the moderated website Reddit over the past 12 hours. However, in the last hour, every post on this topic was de-listed, presumably by the moderators. It has not emerged why this occurred. Update 1b: More recent posts on this topic now exist and are linked from the front page.
Update 2: 9:04am Mon July 29 2009 EDT Website Tech Crunch says that, at 8:00am EDT, AT&T issued statement saying the blockage has been ended, "following the practices of their policy department." Far from a "glad that's over recation" -- this raises the question: what changed that suddenly made it possible for AT&T to stop blocking 4chan?
Update 3: 9:14 Mon July 29 2009 EDT Some commenters below state that AT&T's blocking is a perfectly reasonable thing for an ISP to do. In fact, it is an illegal thing to do. From Central Gadget:
Under the FCC’s Comcast/BitTorrent ruling, Internet Service Providers may only slow or cap connection speeds. They are not allowed to block any service or protocol on the internet. Here, 4chan as a web site appears to fall under an internet service, but it is also conforming to standard web page protocols. It appears AT&T does not have the legal right to block 4chan, only to cap customers who are "abusing" their access to the internet.
Thus, even if AT&T thought their network was being used illegally, they can't block access to the 4chan website, as they admit they did.
Update 4: 2:54 pm Mon July 29 2009 EDT Website Businessinsider.com has a statement from AT&T. AT&T claims (it seems) that ACK bounces to one of their customers caused them to block 4chan for (many? all? they aren't specific) their customers (lifted Sunday night):
Beginning Friday, an AT&T customer was impacted by a denial-of-service attack stemming from IP addresses connected to img.4chan.org. To prevent this attack from disrupting service for the impacted AT&T customer, and to prevent the attack from spreading to impact our other customers, AT&T temporarily blocked access to the IP addresses in question for our customers. This action was in no way related to the content at img.4chan.org; our focus was on protecting our customers from malicious traffic.
Overnight Sunday, after we determined the denial-of-service threat no longer existed, AT&T removed the block on the IP addresses in question. We will continue to monitor for denial-of-service activity and any malicious traffic to protect our customers.
I don't find this a credible reason to mass-block a website across their network.
UPDATE 5: 3:16PM Mon July 27 2009 EDT Here's an informative article at arstechnica.com.
UPDATE 6 and Final: 6:26pm Mon July 27 2009 EDT Here's a link to the statement AT&T made about blocking img.4chan.org.