Verizon Censors Abortion Messages?

In The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports, Verizon Blocks Messages of Abortion Rights Group – New York Times: “Saying it had the right to block ‘controversial or unsavory’ text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.”
Verizon does not appear to be blocking text messages based on content, but discriminating on access to messaging features for advocacy of particular causes. The company prohibits “controversial speech” in its text message broadcast program and seeks to prevent its customers from being able to subscribe to controversial text message lists, against its own financial best interest.
Frank Pasquale, Concurring Opinions, Cell Phone Gag Rule: “This latest development should put net neutrality opponents on the defensive, at least in academic circles. Brett Frischmann and Barbara von Schewick have already called into question the economic foundations of the most sophisticated defense of a laissez-faire position on the matter. But Verizon Wireless’s new policy shows that the cultural consequences of untrammeled carrier control over content may be far worse than its potential to stifle the types of efficiency and innovation economists usually measure.”
While not directly enabling this kind of carrier preference, two recent FCC rulings touch on issues relating to the question of whether short-number broadcast text messaging services are part of wireless carriers’ common carrier obligation.
Last month, the Commission ruled that text messaging is part of the level of mobile service that subscribers expect to use while roaming, In re: Reexamination of Roaming Obligations of Commercial Mobile Radio Service Providers.
In March, the Commission classified mobile broadband services (200 kpbs and greater) as information, rather than telecommunications services. In re: Appropriate Regulatory Treatment for Broadband Access to the Internet Over Wireless Networks.
Update (9/27)
Verizon reversed course.
Adam Liptak, NY Times, Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Messages: “Reversing course, Verizon Wireless announced today that it would allow an abortion rights group to send text messages to its supporters on Verizon’s mobile network.”
David Lazarus, LA Times, Corporate propriety yields to free speech: “The company was now trying to work out a new policy that would accommodate the widespread use of text messages but also prevent ostensibly offensive material from traversing Verizon’s network — hate speech, for example, or porn.”

iTunes (finally) gets a competitor

Amazon unveiled its long awaited digital download service today. It will be interesting to see where this leads, because this is the first true competitor to the iTunes Music Store.
Unlike the various Playsforsure stores, Amazon sells files that will play on iPods without any burning or re-encoding. These are just straight-up MP3s that will play on the iPod and just about every other digital music device ever made.
Buying tracks or albums is just as easy as iTunes, since iTunes licences the 1-click patent from Amazon. Amazon manages to overcome the disadvantage of living in a web browser as opposed to a music library by using a download helper to add purchases automatically to iTunes. (Installing the download helper also includes a free download of “Energy” by The Apples in Stereo.)
More impressions at Coolfer.

Teaching Copyright and Info Literacy

William Patry takes a look at some “non-partisan” copyright groups educational materials: The Patry Copyright Blog: Non-profit, non-partisan education in copyright: “It would be sad indeed if a balanced educational plan for copyright was unachievable, especially where there is a will to develop one.”
As Patry discusses, the copyright debate is not partisan in the traditional sense– it is not a Democratic-Republican party issue. Rather, it is partisan among the various interest groups, with the public interest often never considered in policy-making, or often relegated to just another special interest.
But, that’s a topic for another post.
This raises the question of how and when copyright should be taught to students. In the increasingly wired and creative classroom, Copyright is something that will come up as students scour the internet to download photos, videos and music to use in their school projects and presentations.
But at the same time, issues of plagarism/attribution, information literacy and ascertaining the veracity of sources also arise. For today’s students, web research and vetting sources should probably be taught along with basic copyright principles.
What needs to be taught in an introduction to information literacy and intellectual property curriculum? When is the best time to start to teach it? Elementary school? Middle School? High School?

Internet Access and Competition Policy

The Department of Justice weighed in on the net neutrality debate and filed ex parte comments with the FCC, In re: Broadband Industry Practices, suggesting that the FCC “should be highly skeptical of calls to substitute special economic regulation of the Internet for free and open competition enforced by the antitrust laws.” The filing argues in favor of avoiding regulation and letting the market sort things out.
Letting the market sort out broadband internet access might be less than optimal public policy, if the market for broadband access is not competitive.
When broadband providers have market power in a local market, it creates the possibility for those providers to discriminate against content creators.
In a recent ISP Planet reports, Top 21 U.S. ISPs by Subscriber: Q2 2007, the top 5 providers nationally (SBC, Comcast, AOL, Verizon, Roadrunnner) accounted for 56.5 percent of the total market.
But on a local basis, each local market may be even less competitive. A Consumer Reports survey found that in many markets, there is no competition for broadband service, “The consumer broadband market has been a seller’s market, often limited to a single provider. Our survey underscored the lack of choice: Of readers who used any type of broadband service, 22 percent said they had chosen their type because it was the only broadband option available.”
Unlike in other contexts, in telecommunications, does deregulation not encourage competition? Is local broadband service more competitive than sources for organic food?
More links:
Frank Pasquale, Concurring Opinions, Questionable Advice On Net Neutrality: “The DOJ Antitrust Division’s just-released public comment on net neutrality (available here) has been getting a lot of press. Unfortunately, it appears that the shoddy analysis that Jack Goldsmith saw in the DOJ’s torture memos may also be infecting its approach to net neutrality.”
Brett Frischmann and Barbara Van Schewick, Network Neutrality and the Economics of an Information Superhighway: A Reply to Professor Yoo: “Network neutrality has received a great deal of attention recently, not just from legal academics and telecommunications experts, but from our elected representatives, the relevant agencies and the press. Our representatives have held multiple hearings on network neutrality and are actively considering whether to include a provision aimed at preserving network neutrality in pending telecommunications reform legislation. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are also considering the issue. The press has been drawn to the debate by declarations that the fate of the Internet as we know it is at stake.”
And some coverage of net neutrality issues at the Future of Music Policy Summit:
News.com, Senator: Net neutrality push ain’t over yet “Some people say, well, but it’s a competitive marketplace, if one of the big interests tries to charge for its pipes..the customer will go elsewhere, it’s a competitive world,” Dorgan said. “Well, I’ll tell you what, you’re studying different economics than I am if you think this is competitive
FMC Summit Policy blog: Leveling the Playing Field: how does broadband policy affect musicians?

Criticism 2.0?

With the rise of bloggers into the mainstream media, critics of blogging, like Andrew Keen, worry that amateurism is destroying culture and that the blogosphere is a bunch of silly “user-generated nonsense.”
The problem with blogs giving voices to otherwise unpublished critics and commentators is that these critics are not working with the same thoroughness as the professional critics working for the mainstream media.
Adam Roberts’ The Amateur Gourmet is an entertaining food blog about restaurants and cooking. Roberts even converted the blog into a book deal. But the Amateur Gourmet notes the difference between the amateur restaurant critics and the professionals, Going Back: “Obviously, food bloggers don’t have the resources that professional critics do. We don’t have a newspaper picking up the tab when we go out to eat, it’d be impossible for most of us to eat our way through a menu without spending half our savings. So we go, our cameras in tow, and snap pictures of the two or three dishes we consume at this one meal and then scurry back to our computers to write it up.” After revisiting a restaurant he previously “reviewed,” Roberts finds that his initial impression didn’t quite capture the inconsistency of one Park Slope eatery.
If he reviewed after each time he went, then Roberts might ahve presented a more complete view of the restaurant. But readers can get this more complete view by using the web to search for multiple amateur and blogger positions.
The problem with Web 2.0/the blogosphere/UGC is not that it gives any idiot a voice. Rather, it shifts the burden of creating an overall final opinion from the publisher to the reader. Reading many reviews of bloggers who each visit a restaurant once may provide a more complete impression of a restaurant than one canonical review by a professional reviewer. Reading a selection of film reviews at Rotten Tomatoes can present a more complete impression than just reading Roger Ebert’s review. But the reader has the burden of filtering out idiocy shifts from the editor to the reader.
With readers who know how to properly evaluate the credibility and veracity of reviews, the aggregation of internet reviews can provide a fuller picture than the traditional, Keen-preferred, media. But for those in the media elite, the traditional model gives their voice more weight, and it is preferred.
But even in the blogosphere, a good reviewer carries more weight than some amateur. This is the basis of Google’s PageRank– that Roger Ebert’s links are given more weight and authority than Joe Blow movie reviewer. For restaurants, there will always be a need for localism. But will the internet affect off the television and movie reviews in local newspapers? Do readers need to read their local movie critic if they can go on the web and read reviews from Roger Ebert and Elvis MItchell? Or does it help smaller newspapers attract top critics? If Alan Sepinwall has a larger online profile because of his excellent blog as opposed to his work for the Star Ledger, doesn’t that help the Star Ledger. Perhaps critics who develop their reputation online are becoming more sought after– that a small town paper can raise its profile by hiring a top critic or columnist– and that moving to an outlet that’s not the NYT, WSJ or Washington Post might not be detrimental.