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September 27, 2007

Whistling Past the Graveyard (updated, again) [8:42 am]

“Markets, the solution to all problems!” Nice to see that Tim hasn’t lost his fire: Verizon Rejects Messages of Abortion Rights Group

Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia, said it was possible to find analogies to Verizon’s decision abroad. “Another entity that controls mass text messages is the Chinese government,” Professor Wu said.

Jed Alpert, the chief executive officer of Mobile Commons, which says it is the largest provider of mobile services to political and advocacy groups, including Naral, said he had never seen a decision like Verizon’s.

“This is something we haven’t encountered before, that is very surprising and that we’re concerned about,” Mr. Alpert said.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

“Instead of having the government get in the game of regulating who can carry what, I would get in the game of promoting as many options as possible,” said Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies.”

Riiiiiight

Update: Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Messages
(later version)

The LATimes also looks a little deeper into the issues: Corporate propriety yields to free speechpdf; also NARAL’s case for net neutralitypdf

After NARAL’s complaint reached the national media, Verizon Wireless did a quick about-face, reversing itself on Thursday. The company blamed “an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy” and asserted that it has “great respect for this free flow of ideas.” Nevertheless, by demonstrating how much power network operators wield over speech, Verizon Wireless and AT&T have strengthened the case for rules that keep the Internet free from their control or anyone else’s.

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