The move by Verizon Wireless to block--and then unblock--text messages from abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America is being cited as a key example of why the principles of "net neutrality" should be codified into law.
The telecom company had refused to open its mobile messaging network to NARAL's text messaging service, preventing Verizon subscribers from receiving text messages on abortion and reproductive rights issues from NARAL.
Other major telecom providers had agreed to provide the service, and after a flurry of criticism, Verizon reversed its policy and agreed to allow the messages to go through.
Verizon spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson blamed the decision on an "incorrect interpretation" of Verizon's policies against spam messaging and receiving unwanted 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, he said.
NARAL president Nancy Keenan called the decision "corporate censorship," and thanked those who brought pressure on the company to change its stance.
"We should take great solace in this initial victory, but we must remain vigilant in preventing corporations, business interests, and other third parties from blocking Americans' ability to participate in the democratic process," Keenan said.
Josh Silver, executive director of media watchdog group Free Press, compared Verizon's actions to AT&T's recent censoring of the rock group Pearl Jam, when singer Eddie Vedder's remarks criticizing President Bush were removed from a live Webcast of the show.
"Every time one of these phone companies is caught red-handed -- spying on Americans, censoring musicians and now silencing political views -- they claim it was a one-time glitch," Silver said. "But how many mistakes does it take before we admit there's a bigger problem here?"
Net neutrality supporters advocate the passage of laws that would guarantee any consumer can utilize any network without being restricted from accessing content. Though the philosophy arose from debate over accessing Internet content, it has dovetailed with criticism of wireless providers' locking customers into contracts with termination fees and disabling their handsets to prevent them from working with other carriers.
Both Verizon and AT&T have been staunch opponents of codifying the principle of net neutrality into law, arguing that it would restrict their efforts to offer higher-speed services to customers, and would amount to government infringement of a private company's business practice.
But both companies were willing partners in the National Security Agency's surveillance program, enabling the agency to trace and record calls made by millions of Americans, initially without warrants or oversight, or the knowledge of American citizens.
In addition to the Pearl Jam incident, AT&T and other telecom companies were criticized for blocking access to the FreeConference.Com service, which provides multiple callers the ability to conference from calling a single number. The block was lifted after the FCC received thousands of consumer complaints and agreed to mediate the issue.
And Verizon was forced to stop calling its wireless broadband service "unlimited" after investigations showed that the company would cancel user accounts for downloading music and video content, or if they exceeded an undisclosed limit, often without warning.