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Declaring it an “unsanctioned and inappropriate service” T-Mobile unilaterally decide to prevent its customers from receiving text messages that they requested to receive from WeedMaps.com, a service that helps people find legal medical marijuana dispensaries. For three years, the FCC has stood by while numerous carriers blocked services that compete with their offerings, Verizon blocked political messages from a pro-choice group that it decided was “controversial or unsavory,” and Sprint threatened Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) fundraising for Haitian earthquake relief program.
Public Knowledge has been asking the FCC to take a look at text messaging since 2007. In that time, we have learned a lot about how short codes work and spoken with numerous companies and organizations who worry that they will wake up one morning to find their ability to send and receive text messages cut off by one or all wireless carriers.
Despite this, the FCC refuses to recognize that text messaging is as much a part of cellular service as voice calling is, and protect it as such. We don’t let wireless carriers terminate the phone number of a company or non-profit organization because the wireless company doesn’t like what they are about. There is no reason that we should let carriers shut down text messaging either. The role of wireless carriers is not to evaluate morality or pick and choose business models. Wireless carriers support communications infrastructure open to everyone, regardless of the message they want to communicate.
The citizens of fourteen states plus the District of Columbia voted to allow access to medical marijuana, and no one has accused WeedMaps of violating any law. T-Mobile does not get to play communications nanny just because it controls a choke point. While there are plenty of opinions about medical marijuana, one that no one should have to care about is T-Mobile’s, or any other wireless carrier for that matter.
Our petition is not asking the FCC for anything radical. It merely asks the FCC to treat text messages the same way that it treats voice calling. That means that everyone gets access, carriers are requried to connect with other carriers, and no carrier gets to step in and tell you that they don’t like what you are saying.
Last week I wrote about T-Mobile’s plan to increase the prices it charges business and non-profits to send text messages. Since then, text message services like ChaCha have announced that they will no longer offer thier service to T-Mobile customers. I ended that post by writing “Without FCC action, sooner or later I’m going to have to write another blog post about yet another innovative service trampled by the whims of the wireless carriers.” It turns out to be sooner.
These are just the examples we know about. If the FCC would just tell us what kind of carrier behavior would finally get its attention, I’m confident that examples would come out of the woodwork. Until then, everyone who uses text messaging is stuck waiting for the next shoe to drop.
This time, I will end the post with a question – what will it take for the FCC to protect freedom of communication over text messages? If not anticompetitive behavior by carriers, how about stifling political speech? If not stifling political speech, how about blocking legitimate non-profit fundraising efforts? If not blocking legitimate non-profit fundraising efforts, how about censoring businesses that carriers do not understand? If not censoring businesses that carriers do not understand, what?