There was an interesting story that started Tuesday with one of the two largest mobile carriers and ended abruptly on Wednesday.
A Washington, D.C. Pro-Choice group called NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) Pro-Choice America approached Verizon Wireless, asking to use the company's network to set up a text messaging program. The program allows people to sign up to receive text message updates by typing in a five-digit number. These five-digit numbers are called "short codes" and permit people to get the latest sports, stock reports and gossip.
While all the other major carriers agreed to NARAL's request, Verizon turned the group down on Tuesday. According to Fox.com, a company spokesman said "the topic of abortion is prohibited from mass distribution based on the company's code of content...[he] hinted that the policy could change, as Verizon's code of content 'was initially developed at a time before text-messaging became a mass-market phenomenon'."
NARAL didn't take it lying down. Nancy Keenan, the advocacy group's president, talked to The New York Times, which reported the story on its website on Wednesday. Keenan said, "No company should be allowed to censor the message we want to send to people who have asked us to send it to them...Regardless of people's political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?" (Fox.com)
NARAL's website here reports that this activist approach resulted in 20,000 people calling Verizon in less than two hours to protest that decision.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that Verizon has changed its mind.
"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."
...But the company did not retreat from its position that it is entitled to decide what messages to transmit.
Legal experts said Verizon's position is probably correct under current law, though some called for regulations that would require wireless carriers of text messages to act like common carriers, making their services available to all speakers on all topics.
"This incident, more than ever, shows the need for an open, nondiscriminatory, neutral Internet and telecommunications system that Americans once enjoyed and took for granted," said Gigi B. Sohn, the president of Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group.
She's talking about Net Neutrality, the grass roots effort to uphold "the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet." That quote and the one below are courtesy of a Help site set up here by Google to help to explain Net Neutrality:
Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.