One of the largest wireless telephone companies in the United States has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America to make its mobile network available for a text-message program.
The other leading wireless carriers have accepted the program, which allows people to sign up for pro-abortion text messages from Naral. But Verizon Wireless says it has the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, despite the profits it could have generated from the program.
In turning down the program, Verizon told Naral that it does not accept programs from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.”
Nancy Keenan, Naral’s president, said Verizon’s decision interfered with political speech and activism.
The group provided the New York Times with an example of a recent text message that it has sent to supporters: “End Bush’s global gag rule against birth control for world’s poorest women! Call Congress. (202) 224-3121. Thnx! Naral Text4Choice.”
According to legal experts, private companies like Verizon probably have the legal right to decide which messages to carry. The laws that forbid common carriers from interfering with voice transmissions on ordinary phone lines do not apply to text messages.
Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said the decision turned on the subject matter of the messages and not on Naral’s position on abortion. “Our internal policy is in fact neutral on the position,” he said. “It is the topic itself that has been on our list.”
Nelson suggested that Verizon might rethink its position. “As text messaging and multimedia services become more and more mainstream, we are continuing to review our content standards.” The review will be made, he said, “with an eye toward making more information available across ideological and political views.”
Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania suggested that the market be allowed to determine the issue. “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. You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies,” he said.