Verizon agrees to allow abortion-related txts

If there were ever a perfect example of why America needs wireless network neutrality, this is it. And FWIW, I'd feel the same way if the messages in question were anti-abortion.

Verizon Wireless last week rejected a request last week from the abortion rights group NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) to send txts over the Verizon network to subscribers who chose to receive them.

SMS "call to action" messages are a common tactic in the US and elsewhere for political and social advocacy groups, and Verizon's network is often used in this manner, as are all the other major US carriers. Txting isn't just for pro-choicers or lefties, either: conservative groups and the Republican National Committee do this too.

Anyway — Verizon denied NARAL's request, saying it had the right to block "controversial or unsavory" text-messages. After much outcry over the last couple of days, Verizon has now reversed its decision. Snip from NYT story by Adam Liptak:

"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," Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

"It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy," Mr. Nelson said. "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."

Verizon's Nelson goes on to say that the company is "neutral" on the issue of abortion, and it was the topic of abortion in general that raised the red flag.

Whatever. Verizon's decision, whether the result of an isolated goof or not, should be a cause for concern for anyone who values free speech — online and otherwise.

More from the NYT piece:

"Even as dramatic as the adoption of text messaging for political communication has been in the United States, we've been quite slow compared to the rest of the world," said James E. Katz, the director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University. "It's important in political campaigns and political protests, and it has affected the outcomes of elections."

Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia, said it was possible to find analogies to Verizon's decision abroad. "Another entity that controls mass text messages is the Chinese government," Professor Wu said.

Read the whole article, there's some fascinating history in here about Western Union blocking "unsavory" messages back in the telegraph days.

Link. Here's an AP account: Link.