We Need Policies Not Apologies
Verizon got caught blocking pro-choice text messages on Wednesday. The phone company backpedaled on Thursday and lifted the ban. It was a simple glitch a Verizon spokesman declared, and they felt really, really bad about it.
Today, Verizon is in full damage control, hoping this cloud will blow over in time for its next assault on free speech.
But apologies aren't cutting it anymore. Verizon's censorship of the national pro-choice organization NARAL is just the latest example in a laundry list of phone company efforts to block, filter or interfere with the free flow of information on cell phones and the Internet.
Earlier in the year, both Verizon and AT&T were caught handing over private customer phone records to the National Security Agency. The phone companies first denied it and then started a secret campaign with the White House to gain immunity from any lawsuits.
Getting Our Message Through
This pattern of abuse shows that powerful phone companies cannot be trusted to safeguard our basic freedoms. The democratic principles of free speech and open communication are too important to be entrusted to corporate gatekeepers. Whether it's liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, pro-choice or pro-gun, the phone companies can't pick and choose what messages get through.
Thankfully, a few leaders in Congress have had it with phony apologies from phone companies. Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, reacted to Verizon's ban - and reversal - with strong words: "I am particularly concerned by [Verizon's] ability and apparent willingness to interfere when customers choose to receive legitimate and legal communications from an organization...I ask Verizon to decisively state that it will no longer discriminate against any legal content its customers request from any organization."
"Verizon may have reversed its initial decision in this case, and I'm glad they did. But the fact that they were willing and able to take their initial action is very troublesome," Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota told eWeek. "The network service providers often claim that the effort to ensure network neutrality is a solution in search of a problem, but this is fresh evidence that the problem is real and with us now," Dorgan said. "We need to protect network neutrality by law."
Indeed, the blocking of text messages and interfering with Web traffic is perfectly legal under the current rules - a regulatory offspring of some of the most intense phone company lobbying in history.
Censorship by AT&T and Verizon shows us what we can expect in a future if these lobbyists are successful - and network gatekeepers lock up their full control of both Internet and wireless markets.
Much is at stake. This week, Verizon squelched free speech. Before they're forced to apologize for another glitch, we need to put in place laws that protect our rights not only to speak out on the streets, but on the Internet, on cell phones -- everywhere.