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.”

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?

The State of Broadband in the US

Here are three recent studies about the state of broadband in the US and the world. The short takeaway is that the US is a second-tier country– at best– as far as information infrastructure. That is largely due to the fact that the market for broadband is not competitive in the US. If it is at all available to them, Americans typically obtain broadband service from the incumbent cable company and the incumbent phone company at speeds that are little better than they were 5 years ago.
Internet Innovation Alliance Broadband Factbook
OECD: OECD Communications Outlook 2007
FTC Staff Report: Broadband Connectivity Competition Policy
Susan Crawford, Moving Slowly in the Fast Lane: “The Federal Communications Commission, our national communications regulatory body, is asking the wrong questions and heading in the wrong direction. We need new leadership in this country that has the political muscle to implement radical change. A key national priority, on a par with funding Head Start programs and adequate national healthcare, must be to ensure that access to an unfettered internet is universal, speedy, and cheap.”
Newsweek: True or False: U.S.’s Broadband Penetration Is Lower Than Even Estonia’s: “Maybe our proud nation is going through some rough spots, but at least we have one shining and perpetual triumph: the Internet. People may refer to it as the World Wide Web, but its capital is Silicon Valley and the United States is the big dog tapping the global keyboard. At least that’s what we thought, until the news broke in April of a report by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that ranked the high-speed broadband adoption of 30 countries in the developed world. The United States was not first. Or second, or third. It ranked 15th.”
David Weinberger: Delaminate the Bastards!: “Once upon a time, when this nation’s telecommunications infrastructure was owned by a monopolistic industry, all the phones were black, long distance was incredibly expensive, and if you had a great idea for an innovative service using the telephone system, you were free to write a letter to the telephone company and suggest they look into it. About once a decade, the telephone company would introduce something new — touch tone phones, 800 numbers, and, yes, the pink Princess Phone for the ladies.”
David H. Deans: U.S. Broadband: Is it Half Empty, or Half Full?: “Is the U.S. broadband glass half-empty, or half-full? You decide. The 12 percent growth rate from 2006 to 2007 trails the 40 percent increase in the 2005 to 2006 timeframe, when many people in the middle-income and older age groups acquired home broadband connections.”
Save the Internet Blog: Painting over Broadband Failures with Pretty Pictures: “The near absolute control of phone and cable giants is being bolstered by a Washington establishment that’s loath to upset this imbalance of power. The results are now beginning to show in survey after survey that reveal nationwide broadband failures.”
Eric Bangeman, ars technica: New OECD report shows limitations of US broadband public policy: “The countries with the lowest cost per megabit per second are generally characterized by two things: a significant fiber infrastructure and a healthy amount of competition. In Japan and Korea, for instance, fiber is widespread, resulting in the fastest residential broadband speeds available anywhere. In Europe, the regulatory environment allows consumers in many countries to choose from any number of DSL and cable providers.”
John B. Horrigan, Pew Internet and American Life Project: Why it will Be Hard to Close the Broadband Divide: “ccording to the Pew Internet Project’s February 2007 survey, 47% of American adults have broadband at home, nearly double the 24% penetration level of three years earlier. With home broadband penetration poised to surpass 50% this year, it will have taken 9 years from the time the service became widely available for home high-speed to reach half the population. To put this in context, it took 10 years for the compact disc player to reach 50% of consumers, 15 years for cell phones, and 18 years for color TV”
But the piece de resistance is this article from Spiegel, which illustrates the difference between the US and France. France encouraged competition and required incumbent carriers to allow competitors access to lines. The result is that France has faster broadband available at lower cost and competitive carriers are not simply riding on the incumbent providers facilities, but actually investing in new competitive facilities. France’s Broadband Boom: Vive la High-Speed Internet!: “What a difference a few years make. In 2001, France had one of the weakest markets for broadband Internet access in the developed world, with less than a quarter of the penetration of the U.S. Today, it has sailed past the U.S. to become one of the world’s most wired nations, with more than one in five inhabitants enjoying high-speed Internet connections.”
How can the US catch up to the rest of the world? By encouraging competition in the broadband market. That is the goal that broadband policy should be striving to achieve– not the Bush Administration’s policy of protecting incumbents from competition, but promoting real competition.

Video in the walled garden

Last week Verizon and YouTube announced a deal that will allow Verizon V-Cast subscribers to stream YouTube videos to their mobile phones: YouTube in deal with Verizon: “Only pre-selected high-quality videos will be available for viewing on Verizon’s YouTube channel. Users are also be able to upload to the YouTube Web site after shooting video on a Verizon phone. YouTube, which was founded in February 2005, reports 100 million video views a day.”
So Verizon customers will be able to watch only selected and pre-approved YouTube videos, not their friends’ latest video, but the ones intended for mainstream audiences. (But also, presumably, not the ones that are copyrighted works or those excerpted from copyrighted works.) A non-neutral internet service would probably look something like this kind of mobile phone internet service– a pre-approved medium that shares little in common with the freewheeling public internet.
On the other hand, the good news is that the deal seems to be good for individual creators who are using their phone videocameras. It would seem to make it easy for individuals to upload video directly from a phone camera to YouTube. It would make phone video creators able to contribute directly to the freewheeling public internet from their phone. That could make primary source video of newsworthy and interesting events available worldwide almost immediately. That could be impressive.
Does a closed service that lets only selected video into the walled garden but lets everything out into the rest of the world promote free speech or hinder free speech?

Internet access and monopoly power

FTC Commission Jon Leibowitz briefly touched on the competition law aspects of network neutrality and last-mile access in a speech at the FTC “Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade” Hearing earlier this month: The Changing Internet: Hips Don’t Lie

Some of the most important issues regarding Net Neutrality involve transparency and disclosure. Will carriers block, slow, or interfere with applications or services? If so, will consumers be told all of this before they sign up? To my mind, failure to disclose these limitations would be “unfair or deceptive” in violation of the FTC Act.
Net Neutrality also invokes complicated competition issues. The last mile of the Internet is its least competitive. Nearly all homes in the US – upwards of 98 percent – that receive broadband get it either from their cable or telephone company. Up until now, the relative neutrality of the Internet has meant that competition and innovation elsewhere in cyberspace has not been affected by the market power of the telephone and cable companies. But if these companies are able to discriminate, treating some bits better than others, there is a danger that their market power in the last mile can interfere with the growth, character, and development of the Internet.
To be sure, there is another side to the debate. The ability of providers to charge more for time sensitive applications and content that takes up more broadband may encourage them to make necessary investments. That’s a goal that all of us should support.

Taking a step back from the framework of competition law or even telecommunications law, Susan Crawford is thinking about the big picture of communications policy: Searching for a principle “At the moment, federal telecommunications policy seems to have no coherent set of goals. We have complex and separate regulatory structures covering telephony (wired and wireless), broadcasting, cable television and satellites. Although there is no express delegation by Congress to the FCC to regulate the internet, the FCC sometimes imposes heavy-handed rules (E911 and CALEA for VoIP) and sometimes claims that its chief goal is to be deregulatory.”

PBS looks at neutrality

On PBS, Bill Moyers looks at net neutrality, The Net at Risk: “The future of the Internet is up for grabs. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) effectively eliminated net neutrality rules, which ensured that every content creator on the Internet-from big-time media concerns to backroom bloggers-had equal opportunity to make their voice heard. Now, large and powerful corporations are lobbying Washington to turn the World Wide Web into what critics call a “toll road,” threatening the equitability that has come to define global democracy’s newest forum. Yet the public knows little about what’s happening behind closed doors on Capitol Hill.”

Helping or hurting your cause?

If there was ever a reason for why a corporate-controlled internet might not be such a bad idea, it is this video from “internet celebrities” Tron Guy, Leslie Hall and Peter Pan… If it was the Star Wars kid and Mahir, then you might have something.
Is anyone who matters going to care about net neutrality if a non-neutral, discriminatory internet means simply that Tron Guy, Goatse or the latest All Your Bases Are Belong to Us mashup might take longer to load?
Does “God Save the Internet” by “The Broadband” (Note: not the excellent NYC band Broadband) fall on the lame side of the spectrum of creative advocacy?

Neutral Policy

CDT: Focused Internet Neutrality Legislation Warranted To Protect Open Internet: “In the absence of legislated safeguards, there is a real risk that today’s network operators could choose not to retain the core elements of Internet neutrality. This risk, and the potential consequences, are simply too great to take no action. Once new, non-neutral networks and business arrangements have been put in place, overturning them is likely to be extremely difficult. Legislation is warranted to ensure that neutrality will continue to be factored into network architecture and business plans from the start.”
Full CDT report: Preserving the Essential Internet
Daniel Weitzner, MIT: The Neutral Internet: “The debate thus far, however, has proceeded on the mistaken assumption that this is an either/or choice; that we have to choose between a non-discriminatory, slow, insecure network or a potentially discriminatory, high-speed, cleaner Internet tied together with other broadband services. This paper argues that it is possible to preserve the neutral, non-discriminatory essence of the Internet, without sacrificing future growth of new Internet services and other broadband infrastructure.”
NewsForge: Today’s cell phone system argues for retaining network neutrality: “It turns out that we have a privately owned and controlled network all around us, one that closely mirrors the technical functionality of the Internet, but where there has never been a requirement for net neutrality: the US cellular phone network.”
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) pledges to hold any telecom bill that does not protect a neutral internet: Wyden Blocks Telecom Legislation Over Ineffective Net Neutrality Provision: “The bill makes a number of major changes in the country`s telecommunications law but there is one provision that is nothing more than a license to discriminate. Without a clear policy preserving the neutrality of the Internet and without tough sanctions against those who would discriminate, the Internet will be forever changed for the worse. This one provision threatens to divide the Internet into technology `haves” and `have nots.” This one provision concentrates even more power in the hands of the special interests that own the pipelines to the Internet.”
And finally, a modest proposal for broadband policy from Andy Kessler in The Weekly Standard: Give Me Bandwidth… No one to root for in the net neutrality debate: “Telcos and cable companies have no choice but to lobby for legislation that bars neutrality. Because without the ability to extract money from the webbies for the use of their not-so-fast Alexander Graham Bell-era wires (forget that you and I already overpay for this), AT&T or Verizon might not have any business model going forward. With no real competition, they’d rather keep U.S. telecommunications in the Flintstone era and overcharge for calls to Grandma than upgrade their networks. Since 1998, telecommunications companies have outspent computer and Internet firms on politicians $231 million to $71 million, just to keep the status quo.”

A series of tubes: the song: the story

On Saturday, I read about Sen. Stevens “The internet is a series of tubes” statement, picked up my guitar and recorded a song based on the speech. I signed the “Ted Stevens Internet Fan Club” up on MySpace and posted the track there to stream and then sent an email to BoingBoing, where Cory posted a link. Over the next two days, more than 2,500 people followed that link. (I posted anonymously because, frankly, the track doesn’t sound good. Marginally funny, but only marginally.)
Tuesday morning, I received an email telling me that MySpace cancelled the Ted Stevens Internet Fan Club, because it received a complaint:

Hello,
MySpace has deleted your profile because we received a credible complaint of your violation of the MySpace Terms of Services.
Prohibited activity includes, but is not limited to:
-Any automated use of the system, such as using scripts and/or bots to add friends, send messages, etc.
-For band and filmmaker profiles, MySpace prohibits sexually suggestive imagery or any other unfair, misleading or deceptive content intended to draw traffic to the profile.
-MySpace also investigates credible complaints of copyright/trademark infringement and will delete any materials that infringe upon the intellectual property rights of third parties.
For a more thorough list of prohibited content/activity, please refer to the MySpace Terms of Service located at the bottom of MySpace.com.
If we delete your account, it cannot be reinstated.
Thank you,
MySpace.com

Now, I’m not sure which of those activities the TSIFC page engaged in but the terms of use agreement allows MySpace to summarily delete an account without cause.

MySpace.com reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to reject, refuse to post or remove any posting (including private messages) by you, or to restrict, suspend, or terminate your access to all or any part of the MySpace Services at any time, for any or no reason, with or without prior notice, and without liability.

Even though federal government works can not be protected by copyright (§105), another part of the Copyright Act– the §512 safe harbor– gives an internet host a compelling justification to take down any potentially infringing material.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other options to host and/or stream media. Today, MySpace is simply one of a plethora of free choices and we use it knowing its limitations and agreeing to its terms.
But in the brave new world of a discriminatory internet, it could be possible for internet providers to make it difficult or expensive for individuals to publish media. Allowing network owners to discriminate against certain speakers or distributors of speech could make it more difficult for individual creators to disseminate expressions of ideas. No, the internet is not a truck, but the goal of the anti-neutrality proponents is to turn the internet into something like the cable TV system.
Thanks to Boing Boing, David Isenberg, Public Knowledge, and 27B Stroke 6, among others for linking.
For the latest actually useful discussion of network neutrality and discrimination policy, here are two recent pieces. From Ed Felten, Nuts and Bolts of Network Neutrality: “The Internet consists of a set of end-user computers connected by infrastructure that carries data between those computers. This infrastructure is basically a set of routers (think: metal boxes with electronics inside) connected by links (think: long wires). Packets of data get passed from one router to another, via links. A packet is forwarded from router to router, until it arrives at its destination.”
In the National Journal, Drew Clark writes: The Tangled Net Of ‘Net Neutrality’: “Net neutrality is about the rules of the road for the information superhighway — and whether, some day, traveling in the fast lane will require paying a toll.”
A little further down the slope, the question is whether the internet will continue to be a medium fostering speech and creativity by individuals or will Congress allow large corporations to turn it into a one-way distribution network for the benefit of those few companies.
Update (6:06 pm)
Of all the days to be offline more than usual…
Public Knowledge picked up this story: Ted Stevens Parody Song Pulled From Fox-Owned Web Site “The mystery of what happened to the ‘Ted Stevens Internet Fan Club’ song that had been posted to MySpace.com, but disappeared after three days, has been solved.”
That led to Wired News coverage: MySpace Kills Internet Tube Song.
And finally, via Washington Post media reporter Frank Ahrens, MySpace spokesman Jeff Berman says that the song was “incorrectly deleted” and that the song is back up, which it, in fact, is. (Apologies to the English language for that last sentence.)
What’s the lesson here? Well, if you want customer service, have a reporter from a major national media outlet contact the company. There may be some anecdotal lesson about copyright and contract law in here somewhere, too…

Net Neutrality Miscellany

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on telecommunications legislation and network neutrality: Reconsidering Our Communications Laws: Ensuring Competition and Innovation. The key issue discussed at the hearings was the question of whether the broadband internet access market is a free, competitive market. However, the hearings did not discuss the issue of whether the broadband internet access available in the US is competitive with the internet access markets in other countries.
Here are some links collected recently:
Network World: Debate: Network neutrality: “The U.S. Senate this week is expected to debate network neutrality. What do you think? Scott Cleland, chairman of NETcompetition.org, which represents telecom and wireless companies and David Isenberg, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society are online this week to discuss, debate and answer your comments.”
Susan Crawford: From the telco point of view: “What’s all this about ‘consumers’ and ‘content’?  We know that Americans like to post material of their own online.  Almost 50 million of us have already done that, and teenagers have grown up with interactive media — almost 60% of them have created and shared content online. We’re users, not consumers.  You’re dimming our expectations — we don’t expect to be able to upload with ease, and we wish we had the same kind of broadband access as South Korea.”
The 463 Group: Net Neutrality: What’s Next?: “Feel free to disagree, but the betting types we’ve talked to are guessing that, all near-term Senate machinations aside, nothing gets out of Congress this year and the next Congress will take up the fight along with a host of other big, pending telecom issues (after all, it took many years to get the 1996 Telecom Act passed).”
Ed Felten, Freedom to Tinker: The Last Mile Bottleneck and Net Neutrality: “For a typical home broadband user, the bottleneck for Internet access today is the ‘last mile’ wire or fiber connecting their home to their Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) network. This is true today, and I’m going to assume from here on that it will continue to be true in the future. I should admit up front that this assumption could turn out to be wrong — but if it’s right, it has interesting implications for the network neutrality debate.”
News.com: Net neutrality: Meet the winner: “As Verizon Communications’ executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, Tauke has spent the last few months embroiled in a fiery debate over Net neutrality, the concept that broadband providers must be legally required to treat all content equally.”
David Isenberg: Welcome to the Stupid Internet: “I looked at “reality.” I saw email, and the Web, and eCommerce, and Mapquest, and blogging, and Instant Messaging, and streaming audio on demand, and multiplayer online games, and many other miracles too numerous to list here, miracles that never arrived via “intelligent” networks.”
In The Hill, Future of Music Coalition’s Jenny Toomey and Michael Bracy discuss why net neutrality is important for musicians: Indie Rock Revolution, Fueled by Net Neutrality: “To understand the importance of net neutrality for artists, look at the lack of a similar principle in modern commercial radio. When informally polled as to why they sign away their copyrights to major labels, most artists explain that they need to be on a major label in order to have a shot at commercial radio airplay. And, sadly, these artists have a point.”
Tyler Cowen: Marginal Revolution: Net neutrality, part II: “If the cable and telecom companies had no legally-backed monopoly powers, I would not favor legally enforced net neutrality.  ‘Let the market decide’ would be a good answer.”
Michael Madison: Net Neutrality Anecdote: “I started to talk about the net neutrality issue. My wife wanted to know which side the Republicans are on and which side the Democrats are on. No: it’s not a traditional partisan issue. It’s partly the present v. the future, and hierarchy v. distributed control, but it’s also money v. money. Could I explain all that in the 20 minutes that we walked around the block? Not really.”
Lawrence Lessig and Robert W. McChesney in the Washington Post: No Tolls on The Internet: “The protections that guaranteed network neutrality have been law since the birth of the Internet — right up until last year, when the Federal Communications Commission eliminated the rules that kept cable and phone companies from discriminating against content providers. This triggered a wave of announcements from phone company chief executives that they plan to do exactly that.”
All Things Considered: Network Neutrality Issue Unites Political Foes: “Once again, the old cliche “politics makes strange bedfellows” is proving itself true: The liberal advocacy group Moveon.org is fighting on the same side as the Christian Coalition. That may be the most headline-catching part of an issue with a notably dull name: Network Neutrality.”
NY Times: Editorial: Wi-Fi and the Cities: “No fewer than 300 cities and towns around the nation have taken wireless Internet access, or Wi-Fi, to the people. San Francisco’s aim is to make the entire city a hot spot, Chicago plans to blanket the city with access, and large parts of Philadelphia are to go wireless soon. But New York, which should be leading the way, is dragging.”