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Thursday, September 27, 2007

A no speech zone is opened, but for how long?

Earlier today it was reported that Verizon had prohibited NARAL Pro-Choice America from using its text messaging service to send updates to interested subscribers. Although the company reversed course later in the day, the troubling precedent, and legal foundation, remain:
But legal experts said 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.
Historically, government has stepped in to require communications companies to relay any message, especially when there were near-monopolies on the service.

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.

Given the way that mobile phone companies lock users in to long-term contracts, I think there's a good argument for market failure when speech is suppressed. Especially when your Verizon alternatives are shit.

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