Verizon Wireless and Net Neutrality Advocates Clash Over Text Messaging

September 27, 2007. The New York Times (NYT) published an article on September 27, 2007, by Adam Liptak, titled "Verizon Blocks Messages of Abortion Rights Group". It states that Verizon Wireless (VW) "rejected a request from" the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) "to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program".

VW reversed its decision immediately after publication of the NYT article. VW stated that its refusal resulted from a old policy intended to protect subscribers from spam messages.

VW's Jeffrey Nelson wrote in a release that "The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect, and we have fixed the process that led to this isolated incident."

He added that "Upon learning about this situation, senior Verizon Wireless executives immediately reviewed the decision and determined it was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy. That policy, developed before text messaging protections such as spam filters adequately protected customers from unwanted messages, was designed to ward against communications such as anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children."

He concluded that Verizon Wireless has "great respect for this free flow of ideas and will continue to protect the ability to communicate broadly through our messaging service."

Proponents of legislative or regulatory network neutrality mandates immediately criticized VW and renewed calls for government mandates.

Gigi Sohn, head of the Public Knowledge (PK), stated in a release that "You cannot have unfettered communications by having the telephone company review each decision whenever a controversial issue is raised. A text message like this one alerting Naral supporters to act quickly on a pending political issue is useless after hours of delay by the telephone company referees."

She said that "This incident only became public because the Federal Communications Commission lifted the protections Americans long enjoyed to communicate over telephone networks, because an activist group complained and because a story appeared in the newspaper. Despite Verizon’s statement, it's clear that the policy would still be in place absent the publicity. This incident, more than ever, shows the need for an open, non-discriminatory, neutral Internet and telecommunications system that Americans once enjoyed and took for granted".

Josh Silver of the Free Press (FP) stated in a release after Verizon Wireless reversed its decision that "Verizon and AT&T cannot be trusted to safeguard basic American freedoms. Every time one of these phone companies is caught red-handed -- spying on Americans, censoring musicians and now silencing political views -- they claim it was a one-time glitch. But how many mistakes does it take before we admit there's a bigger problem here?"

Silver added that "The fundamental democratic principles of free speech, privacy and open communication are too important to be entrusted to these corporate gatekeepers. Whether it's liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, pro-choice or pro-gun, the phone companies can't get to pick and choose what messages get through. Congress needs to step in immediately to protect free speech and the free flow of information."

The PK and FP are Washington DC based interest groups that advocate network neutrality.

Also, the ACLU's Marvin Johnson stated in a release that "If private companies can control what we see, hear, and say over ``their´´ networks, in a world that runs on the Internet, free speech is lost." See also, ACLU's web page titled "Internet Freedom and Innovation at Risk: Why Congress Must Restore Strong Net Neutrality Protection".

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon and Vodafone.