Verizon Wireless has quickly changed its mind about blocking text messages from the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Blaming the decision to block the messages on an "incorrect interpretation" of company policy, the nations second largest wireless carrier said Sept. 27 that the advocacy group was free to use its network.
The companys initial decision generated a harsh, angry letter from NARAL Pro-Choice America and again raised network neutrality concerns among public policy advocates, who contend Verizon Wireless actions underscore the need for a federal law prohibiting carriers from blocking legal content.
"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 spokesperson for Verizon Wireless, said in a statement.
According to Nelson, Verizon Wireless "dusty internal policy" was developed before filters and was designed to protect its customers from spam, anonymous hate messaging and adult materials sent to children.
Click here to read a commentary on why Verizon is the king of ISP spammers.
"Upon learning about this situation, senior Verizon Wireless executives immediately reviewed the decision," Nelson said. "We have great respect for this free flow of ideas and will continue to protect the ability to communicate broadly through our messaging service."
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a Sept. 25 letter to Verizon Wireless that the company was the only wireless carrier to reject the groups text message short code application.
"Your corporate censorship affects millions of Americans since Verizon Wireless controls nearly 25 percent of the cellular market," Keenan wrote. "The principle at stake here is simple. Verizon Wireless customers have every right to decide what actions to take with their phones, regardless of their political views."
Informed of Verizon Wireless policy reversal by eWEEK, NARAL Pro-Choice America did not have an initial response.
Art Brodsky, communications director for Washington-based Public Knowledge, told eWEEK that Verizon Wireless backpedaling in no way alleviated the pro-network neutrality groups concerns. "Its a classic control over the message issue," he said. "You cant have a message-by-message policy."
In a statement issued by the group, Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn added, "Instant replay is not the way to guarantee the rights of Americans to communicate freely over telecommunications networks. You cannot have unfettered communications by having the telephone company review each decision when a controversial issue is raised."
After NARAL Pro-Choice America protested Verizon Wireless rejection of the groups text messaging application, the companys legal department informed Keenan, "VZW does not accept issue-oriented (abortion, war, etc.) programs-only basic, general politician-related campaigns (Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, etc."
Asked for further clarification, Verizon Wireless wrote NARAL Pro-Choice America, "For now VZW will not accept programs that are issue-oriented from lobbyist [sic], PACs or any organization that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of users."
Keenan replied, "As an advocate for citizen involvement in our democracy, I find your censorship outrageous."
Public Knowledges Sohn noted Verizon Wireless only changed its policy only after NARAL Pro-Choice America went public with its complaints. "Despite Verizons statement, it is clear that the policy would still be in place absent the publicity."
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who has introduced network neutrality legislation, had no immediate statement on Verizon Wireless actions. Dorgans bill, co-sponsored by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, would prohibit broadband carriers from discriminatory practices such as pricing in handling traffic from Internet content, application and service providers. The bill has been languishing in the Senate since January.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.