Can anybody give AT&T a little love? I spend most of the last week doing countless interviews with the press who wanted to know how the iPhone was going to affect the music industry. My answer remains the same -- it won't.

Not at first anyway. That's not a ding on the phone, but just a reality when you consider that the iPhone does not allow you to acquire music in any way new or different than you're already able to. There's no wireless access to download music from the iTunes store. People who buy the iPhone are likely already iPod owners, so it's not like the iPhone is going to motivate them to buy MORE music from iTunes either. Is this a bad thing? Not really. It just is.

But despite all the attention given to the iPhone, the real innovator here isn't Apple -- it's AT&T Wireless.

Think about it, while the pundits are all (somewhat justifiably) knocking the operator for its shoddy coverage, they're missing the fact that AT&T is the only operator offering subscribers the ability to acquire music from existing digital music services instead of forcing them to use something different.

There are 500 million active iTunes users, most of whom use it to manage and transfer music files they burned from a CD (not purchased from the music store). But even if they could offer the iPhone, neither Sprint nor Verizon Wireless wants you to use iTunes to transfer music to your phone -- they want you to use their music management software. Consumers aren’t going to accept a scenario where they need to use one program to play music on their computer and transfer it to their MP3 player, but use a different one altogether to transfer music to their phone.

Meanwhile, AT&T offers not only the iPhone for iTunes users, but also the Sync and BlackJack for those who subscribe to Napster or Rhapsody. Plug in any of these phones and the respective music service for which it is provisioned will recognize it as a supported MP3 player.

Eventually, AT&T will get its network act together, and will add the ability to download music from these different services as well. Tie it with a slick music ID service and maybe some push SMS recommendations for a reasonable monthly fee, and you've got yourself a cool package that will do a whole lot more to kickstart the mobile music market than what we're seeing today.

So let's all give a little credit where it's due, shall we?

Now the RIAA is being sued by a disabled single mom who claims the organization tried to go after her 10-year-old daughter in an effort to collect its settlement package.

When does the publicity need to get bad enough for the RIAA to put its legal campaign to bed? For a time, it served a purpose -- which was to generate awareness that "illegal" downloading of music is bad. But the data clearly shows that P2P piracy is showing no signs of slowing. It's time to move on and figure out how to monetize this traffic, not stem it.

The RIAA would be better off spending time and energy corralling its members to agree on a common course of action for the digital future than suing music fans.
Granted, that won't be an easy task. I've worked for a major trade organization and I've seen what it takes to take a leadership role in a member-driven organization. It requires strong-arm negotiations capable of dealing with the big egos of any CEO, let alone the personalities running today's record labels. It also requires carefully negotiating the minefield of anti-trust laws that prohibit certain elements of industry collusion.

Yet I find it interesting that the one thing the music industry absolutely cannot collaborate on – pricing -- is the one thing that remains consistent among each digital music deal. Meanwhile, there are no standards for providing metadata, reporting revenues/royalties, DRM interoperability, and so on. The labels are trying to compete in a game that hasn't yet defined its own rules. The boundaries have not been drawn; the scoring system is not in place. Heck, they're not even using the same equipment!

None of this inherently is a bad thing. Digital music is still a very young game with plenty of growing pains left to deal with. But to not address the things that can be done to ease these pains in favor of fruitlessly throwing dirt at the spectators is misguided at best, and irresponsible at worst.

I say blend with consumer behavior, not punish it. Start chasing the opportunity, not the threat.