Verizon/NARAL an Argument for Regulation?

by on September 28, 2007 · 4 comments

A reader writes in to point out Ken Fisher’s excellent take on the Verizon/NARAL controversy:

When first reported by the New York Times last night, the issue was tied to “net neutrality,” but this is really a red herring. Laws prevent Verizon from censoring voice calls or even individual emails, but there are no prohibitions on censoring SMS messages sent over that network. Verizon Wireless does not censor Internet content or services, even though it currently reserves the right to do so for short code messaging services. However, public outcry changed Verizon Wireless’ tune in less than 24 hours.

Verizon Wireless is quick to point out that their prohibition had been based on the topic of abortion itself, not on any particular side within that debate. That is, the company does not want to look as though it was taking sides in the abortion debate itself.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “Regardless of people’s political views, Verizon customers should decide what action to take on their phones. Why does Verizon get to make that choice for them?”

Given that Verizon Wireless was the only carrier to refuse NARAL, it’s not surprising that they have changed course so quickly. It’s proof positive that bad policies can and will be addressed if the public’s sense of fairness can be marshalled.

It’s worth bearing in mind that given the finite number of short codes available, Verizon has to exercise some level of discretion in deciding who gets to have one. And at a very minimum, I want them restricting access enough to ensure that I don’t get spam sent to my phone. In this case, the market worked: Verizon’s decision sparked a consumer outcry, which in turn caused Verizon to re-consider its decision within barely 24 hours of its coming to public attention. This is hardly a good example of the need for greater regulation.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Indeed. In a case like this, the choice is between two systems for marshaling Verizon’s behavior. The existing one – market forces – reversed a bad decision in 24 hours. The alternative – government regulation – holds fast to an accumulating litany of bad decisions.

  • http://www.cato.org/people/harper.html Jim Harper

    Indeed. In a case like this, the choice is between two systems for marshaling Verizon’s behavior. The existing one – market forces – reversed a bad decision in 24 hours. The alternative – government regulation – holds fast to an accumulating litany of bad decisions.

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    What happens when a lower-profile or less popular organization is censored by Verizon? It’s wonderful that market pressure forced Verizon to change their policy so quickly in this case. What I don’t understand is why Verizon needs or ought to censor SMSes that I intentionally elected to receive.

    Believe me, SMS is a world where the market is decidedly not working — particularly not premium SMS, where carriers take up to a 50% cut (and inexplicably disallow charities from using it, at least in this country).

    Fortunately relatively neutral data services seem likely to replace the laughably expensive and limited SMS standard, so I can’t get *too* worked up about this. But it really is a pretty bad situation. A very few gatekeepers continue to increase prices (despite increasing demand and no practical limit on supply) and prevent small players from using the medium.

  • http://www.manifestdensity.net Tom

    What happens when a lower-profile or less popular organization is censored by Verizon? It’s wonderful that market pressure forced Verizon to change their policy so quickly in this case. What I don’t understand is why Verizon needs or ought to censor SMSes that I intentionally elected to receive.

    Believe me, SMS is a world where the market is decidedly not working — particularly not premium SMS, where carriers take up to a 50% cut (and inexplicably disallow charities from using it, at least in this country).

    Fortunately relatively neutral data services seem likely to replace the laughably expensive and limited SMS standard, so I can’t get *too* worked up about this. But it really is a pretty bad situation. A very few gatekeepers continue to increase prices (despite increasing demand and no practical limit on supply) and prevent small players from using the medium.

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