Here’s the kicker: To maintain that immunity, AT&T must transmit data “without selection of the material by the service provider” and “without modification of its content.” Once AT&T gets in the business of picking and choosing what content travels over its network, while the law is not entirely clear, it runs a serious risk of losing its all-important immunity. An Internet provider voluntarily giving up copyright immunity is like an astronaut on the moon taking off his space suit. As the world’s largest gatekeeper, AT&T would immediately become the world’s largest target for copyright infringement lawsuits.
On the technical side, if I were an AT&T engineer asked to implement this plan, I would resign immediately and look for work at Verizon. AT&T’s engineers are already trying to manage the feat of getting trillions of packets around the world at light speed. To begin examining those packets for illegal pictures of Britney Spears would be a nuisance, at best, and a threat to the whole Internet, at worst. Imagine if FedEx were forced to examine every parcel for drug paraphernalia: Next-day delivery would soon go up in smoke. Even China’s Internet, whose performance suffers greatly from its filtering, doesn’t go as far as what AT&T is proposing.