AT&T is apparently preparing to undertake some non-network-neutral acts.

At a small panel discussion about digital piracy here at NBC?s booth on the Consumer Electronics Show floor, representatives from NBC, Microsoft, several digital filtering companies and telecom giant AT&T said the time was right to start filtering for copyrighted content at the network level.

Such filtering for pirated material already occurs on sites like YouTube and Microsoft?s Soapbox, and on some university networks.

Network-level filtering means your Internet service provider ? Comcast, AT&T, EarthLink, or whoever you send that monthly check to ? could soon start sniffing your digital packets, looking for material that infringes on someone?s copyright.

In reality, what this means is that AT&T is going to clamp down on BitTorrent (and other) traffic. Sniffing an individual data packet to determine if it contains copyrighted material would be a very difficult problem, and thus essentially we’re talking about an across-the-board ban of a particular technology – despite the fact that the technology has very legitimate uses. CNet explains how Comcast filtered BitTorrent traffic last year.

I administer a very small, niche, BitTorrent tracker out of my home, and while making broadcast sporting events available on the internet would appear to be a copyright violation (IANAL), our policies are very clear – no material is to be shared that would directly result in providers losing money. Our goal is to simply provide material that is not widely available to people who would otherwise not be able to view the material, and that is overwhelmingly who uses the site. (In fact, many users are Americans living abroad.) Regardless, it’s not AT&T who is responsible for the data. Heck, it’s not even me (none of the data in question actually moves thru my network – just addresses of people who want to share the data).

Unfortunately, I have no alternative service provider. If I want internet connectivity – useful connectivity that allows me access to my file server at home from anywhere in the world – AT&T is my only option. And I’m already upset with their service – whenever I’m heavily utilizing my purchased bandwidth, they force me to get a new IP address, fouling up all of my usage. But I don’t have the option of going with another provider. I’m a customer trapped in a failed market. And it looks like it’s going to get worse, rather than better.