We have long been concerned about the potential threat to free speech and a free press as communications migrate from old-fashioned telephone lines, TV broadcasts and printing presses to digital networks controlled by unregulated private companies.
Leaving aside for the moment that the concept of free speech and free press was conceived to prevent government from limiting speech–making "unregulated private companies" the perfect vehicles for such speech–let's take a look at the news hook for the editorial:
Verizon briefly prohibited Naral Pro-Choice America from sending a certain type of "issue-oriented" text message in bulk on their system. When the block came to light, Verizon reversed the decision almost immediately, blaming an outdated anti-spam policy and one overzealous "well-intentioned employee."
No harm, no foul, right? Everything is working as it should, with public pressure on companies yielding good results without any intervention from the government. But no, Verizon's immediate correction and retraction is not enough for the Times, which wants a law "barring interference with text messaging."
American newspapers can resist government intimidation because the Constitution is on our side, but also because we control the presses. … If newspapers were delivered over mobile phones, a company could simply cut them off because it did not like a particular article.
So, to review: Freedom of speech is protected, first and foremost, by private ownership of the means of speech. The New York Times owns its own presses, and the government cannot tell them when they can or can't run. "That is the real meaning behind 'freedom of the press,'" says the Times, "and authoritarian societies know it." Right on.
But freedom of speech suddenly becomes endangered when telecommunications companies own the means of speech, and the only remedy is for the government to step in and tell them what they can or can't send.