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Do You Trust the Phone Companies? We Don't Either.

Marvin Johnson,
Washington Legislative Office
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October 2, 2007

Last week we learned that Verizon Wireless refused to allow NARAL to use its network to send text messages. Apparently, NARAL was deemed “unsavory.” Within 24 hours of the news reaching the blogosphere, Verizon changed its position, claiming it was the result of a “dusty” policy. What that policy was, and Verizon’s policy currently is, is anyone’s guess.

In an article in The Los Angeles Times, reporter David Lazarus called Verizon Wireless to find out the terms of the old policy. Verizon declined to provide a copy claiming it was now “irrelevant.” Requests for the new policy were similarly rebuffed, this time on the basis that the policy was still being developed. Thus, no one (except Verizon Wireless) knows what the policy may be.

It just might be that Verizon prefers no one see the text of the policy. After all, if you can’t read it you can’t point out its flaws. Look what happened to AT&T this week: Someone actually bothered to read the new service agreement for its Internet offerings. Nestled deep in section five of the company’s new terms of service agreement is a provision that allows the company to terminate service of anyone who criticizes them. Specifically, AT&T reserves the right to terminate service “for conduct that AT&T believes . . . tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries.” This termination may take place without notice, and AT&T has the right to delete all of your files maintained on its system, including e-mail messages, without further notice. Verizon also has similar terms of service.

AT&T and Verizon may claim that all we need to do is “trust them” to do what is right. The problem is these are the same companies that handed our personal data over to the government without a warrant and are now seeking to have the government grant them immunity from any lawsuits.

Both companies claim they will not block any content while they pour millions into lobbying against net neutrality. Yet, Verizon already blocked NARAL, until yielding to public outrage. AT&T censored singer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam because of remarks he made critical of President Bush during a live webcast. And both companies reserve broad rights to control content of which they disapprove.

My mother always told me: “actions speak louder than words.” In this case, both the actions and the words tell me we can’t trust these companies to be neutral about content.

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