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Verizon Blocks Pro-Choice Text Messaging

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We've just been handed another view of Verizon's gatekeeper tendencies with a report Wednesday night that the company's wireless arm is blocking pro-choice text messages.

According to the New York Times, Verizon Wireless has rejected Naral Pro-Choice America efforts to use Verizon's mobile text-message program to communicate to its membership.

Locked Down

What free speech looks like

Photo courtesy of gizmodo

Such text messaging is an important new tool for advocacy organizations seeking to educate and alert their members.

Verizon decision to block this new form of political speech interferes with its users' right to get information that they choose to receive.

The move gives off a familiar scent -- and puts Verizon in the same league with its cohorts at AT&T, who in August censored the live Webcast of a Pearl Jam performance that included criticism of President George Bush.

The truth is that whenever given the choice, phone companies will opt to discriminate against content they don't like. Such efforts to stem the free flow of information should be a wake up call for anyone concerned about phone company plans to begin filtering Internet content.

Verizon and AT&T routinely rail against Net Neutrality as a "solution in search of a problem." They swarm Washington with lobbyists offering promises never to interfere with the free flow of online content. And then they lobby for new laws that will allow them to do just that.

AT&T and Verizon share a history of breaking trust with the public, including handing over customer phone records to the government -- and then seeking immunity from prosecution for doing so; promising to deliver services to underserved communities and then skipping town; pledging never to interfere with the free flow of information while hatching plans with the likes of Cisco and Viacom to build and deploy technology that will spy on online traffic.

Earlier this month, Verizon filed suit against the FCC for trying to pry open the wireless market to more consumer choice and competition. In Verizon's myopic view, consumers should never benefit from the free market -- and especially not those who are locked into their draconian wireless contracts.

The bottom line is never trust Verizon or AT&T at their word. Phone companies act in bad faith toward the public and will do whatever they can get away with -- including sacrificing their users' freedom to choose -- to advance their financial interests.

The Verizon network crowd that famously shadows users wherever they go has now taken on an Orwellian cast. No, Verizon, we don't want your mob to surround us. We simply want you to get out of our way.

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Sept 27 UPDATE:

Let the backpedaling begin. Verizon Wireless just announced that it has dropped its ban on text messages from NARAL one day after news of their censorship was reported by the New York Times.

"The decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect," Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said in a statement, adding that the earlier decision was an "isolated incident."

Don't believe it. This gives us a dim view at the gatekeeping mindset of phone companies -- and what we might expect in a future where the likes of AT&T and Verizon are handed control of the free flow of information. It's time Congress reaffirmed its commitment to protecting free speech over all 21st Century communications - on the Internet, on cell phones, on the streets, everywhere.

You can take action to stop similar abuses here.