Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Verizon Explains What Net Neutrality Means

If you haven’t already heard, Verizon Wireless first decided to reject NARAL Pro-Choice America’s request to use their mobile network for a text-messaging, and then within hours reversed themselves.

Verizon's reasoning for first rejecting NARAL was that it had an internal policy to block "controversial or unsavory" text messages from the program, which its spokesman explained, laughably, someone had just forgotten to update by the time of NARAL's attempt to subscribe to the text service.

"It was an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy," said [Jeffrey Nelson, a company spokesman.] "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."
Oh, I’m so glad someone at Verizon decided to look at the calendar and realize that it's now 2007. You would think Verizon executives were unaware of the fact that text-messaging is becoming a common political organizing tool. An NPR story on the issue pointed out that, in 2006, young people who received text messages urging them to vote were more likely to go to the polls.

Even though they’ve now managed to revise their "dusty internal policy," has anyone asked who elected Verizon gatekeepers of political messages in the first place? This is exactly why net neutrality matters. Net neutrality is about carriers (like the phone company) not being content censors. If Verizon wouldn’t legally be allowed to deny NARAL a phone line or censor what they say on the phone, why then should they be allowed to censor their text messages and those of ordinary people? (After all, it was people who were going to be texting to NARAL that were also being censored.)

Net Neutrality is something that everyone should be concerned about, regardless of whether they are supporters of NARAL or not. It should be alarming to everyone that if Verizon can decide that a message about birth control is too "controversial or unsavory," then on what other messages can they pass judgment? Hence the term net neutrality. Because it shouldn’t matter what is the content of the messages the organization is trying to send.

In a way, I’m sort of glad Verizon tipped its hand so badly on this issue. The phone companies and cable companies have been pushing against any move to make the internet and text messages "net-neutral." (They want the option of control.) By denying NARAL's request when every other phone carrier agreed, Verizon immediately showed to millions of people exactly why we need net neutrality.

--Rachel Joy Larris

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