YOU KNOW those annoyingly loud ring tones of pop songs that blare while you're on the bus?

Many are obtained by texting to a four-to-six digit number, what's called in the business a "short number."

These short numbers are what thousands of Americans used to vote for "American Idol," texting their vote to a special number.

Those short numbers had a recent scary moment of being censored by one of the country's largest cell providers, Verizon.

When NARAL-Pro Choice America tried to obtain its own "short code" for people to text so they could be kept up to date on an issue of importance to them, Verizon refused. The company maintained that it was policy to refuse a short code to any group which "seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users."

The company recently reversed its policy, but the effect was chilling to all proponents of free speech.

On the surface, it seems reasonable to think that corporations don't want to wade into touchy debate. Yet, at a time when text messaging is becoming the communication of choice for so many people, denying a hot-button group the use of technology is tantamount to Bell Telephone denying use of their phone lines by civil rights crusaders in the 1960s, or the Postal service denying the Christian Coalition the use of direct mail in the 1980s.

Although Verizon reversed course, more must be done to guarantee that those who have a legitimate point of view are not denied use of our burgeoning technology.

There are no Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules that protect the rights of all in text messaging. The FCC should move immediately to put in place free speech protections in text messaging.

And, if they won't, then Congress should. *