Commentary

Just An Online Minute... Verizon Rescinds Text Message Block

This morning, after news broke that Verizon had refused to allow the abortion rights group Naral Pro-Choice America to send text messages to supporters, the telecom changed its position. Now, the company says it will allow Naral to send text messages.

"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, told The New York Times in a statement. The turnaround came just hours after the Times posted an online story about Verizon refusing to allow Naral to send text messages.

Even though Verizon reversed itself, the incident shows what can happen when Internet access providers pick and choose which content to allow over their networks. As last night's Times article pointed out, that power is at the heart of the debate over whether to pass net neutrality laws, which would prohibit Internet access providers from refusing to transmit certain content or degrading service to some publishers.

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Here, Verizon undoubtedly was concerned about the bad press it was receiving for prohibiting a group with a sizable opt-in membership from sending text messages, but it's not clear how Verizon or telecoms will treat other, less well-known groups. For that matter, it's also not clear how many nonprofits or political groups Verizon has blocked from sending text messages in the past.

The next time Verizon and others go to Washington to lobby against net neutrality laws, they should be called to account for how they've addressed such issues in the past.

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