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Hill Democrats: Verizon Call Raises Net Neutrality Concerns

Network-neutrality backers John Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Commiteee, and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Internet & Telecommunications Subcommittee, said Thursday that Verizon Communications' blocking of wireless text messages raised "serious" (Markey) and "troubling" (Dingell) questions about whether it was honoring basic principles of network neutrality.

The New York Times reported that Verizon had initially declined a request from abortion-rights activists to send out a group text message, saying that abortion was too controversial a topic. Verizon then changed course and allowed the messages once the Times story was out, according to Markey.

"Wireless text messages are ones that consumers themselves elect to receive, so the blocking of such messages by a corporate gatekeeper was deeply concerning," Markey said. "I am pleased that Verizon has quickly reversed course. I urge Verizon and other wireless carriers to ensure that their company policies do not interfere with the delivery of any lawful content, nor discriminate on the basis of who the sender of such messages may be.”

"I am particularly concerned by its ability and apparent willingness to interfere when customers choose to receive legitimate and legal communications from an organization," Dingell said in a statement Thursday.

But Dingell also wanted to hear more from Verizon: "Its latest statement does not identify any substantive change in policy. I ask Verizon to decisively state that it will no longer discriminate against any legal content its customers request from any organization.”

Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge renewed that group's call for network neutrality, saying, “Instant replay is not the way to guarantee the rights of Americans to communicate freely over telecommunications networks. You cannot have unfettered communications by having the telephone company review each decision whenever a controversial issue is raised. A text message like this one alerting Naral supporters to act quickly on a pending political issue is useless after hours of delay by the telephone-company referees."

Public Knowledge was also highly critical of an incident last month in which AT&T edited some anti-Bush lyrics from a Webcast of a Lollapalooza concert the telco sponsored. AT&T called it a mistake that won't be repeated."