Violation of common-carrier principle: a battle is won but war continues . . .

Posted on September 28, 2007  /  0 Comments

The phone company has reversed its position on censoring content intended for their customers who have indicated their consent to receive the content, but continues to assert its right to decide what messages it will transmit. Public policy must ensure that the common-carrier principle be formally extended to text messages as well.

Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Messages – New York Times

Reversing course, Verizon Wireless announced yesterday that it would allow an abortion rights group to send text messages to its supporters on Verizon’s mobile network.“The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect,” said Jeffrey Nelson, a spokesman for Verizon, in a statement issued yesterday morning, adding that the earlier decision was an “isolated incident.”

Last week, Verizon rejected a request from the abortion rights group, Naral Pro-Choice America, for a five-digit “short code.” Such codes allow people interested in hearing from businesses, politicians and advocacy groups to sign up to receive text messages.

Verizon is one of the two largest mobile carriers. The other leading carriers had accepted Naral’s request for the code.

In turning down the request last week, Verizon told Naral that it “does not accept issue-oriented (abortion, war, etc.) programs — only basic, general politician-related programs (Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, etc.).”

In yesterday’s statement, Mr. Nelson called that “an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy” that “was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.” The policy, Mr. Nelson said, had been developed “before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages.”

But the program requested by Naral would have sent messages only to people who had asked to receive them.

Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, expressed satisfaction yesterday. “The fight to defeat corporate censorship was won,” she said. But Ms. Keenan added that her group “would like to see Verizon make its new policy public.”

Verizon did not respond to repeated requests for copies of the policy or an explanation for why it is withholding it.

Text messaging is an increasingly popular tool in American politics and an established one abroad. In his statement, Mr. Nelson acknowledged that the technology is “being harnessed by organizations and individuals communicating their diverse opinions about issues and topics.” He said Verizon has “great respect for this free flow of ideas.”

But the company did not retreat from its position that it is entitled to decide what messages to transmit.

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