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The convenience and low overhead of text messages have made them vitally important—in emergencies, and in spreading the word on important, time-sensitive issues. Text messages to loved ones can get through even when voice networks are overwhelmed. Businesses can use text messages to alert their best customers to special offers. Text messages can also be used to alert the public about dangerous situations or urge political action.
However, mobile carriers currently can and do discriminate in who is allowed to send and receive text messages.
This is because mobile carriers have complete discretion over something called short codes. You know short codes: “Text ‘HAITI’ to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts” – that 90999 is called a short code. It’s not a normal 10-digit phone number. Short codes are the only way an organization or company can send or receive text messages.
In a nutshell, they are very expensive, difficult to acquire, and under arbitrary restrictions from the mobile carriers. (For example, $10 is the max amount a person can donate to a non-profit like the Red Cross via text message.)
Public Knowledge’s Position
Public Knowledge believes that text messaging is an important and rapidly growing medium of free speech in the United States today. Mobile carriers should not be the gatekeepers who decide what speech is allowed and what speech is not, and should not be permitted to leverage their control over this medium to stifle competition.
That’s why, in 2007, Public Knowledge filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that it clarify that text messaging is subject to the same nondiscrimination rules as voice communications. It’s been more than 3 years, and we’re still pushing for the FCC to act.
Examples of carriers blocking text messages:
- September 2007 - Verizon refused to provision a short code to NARAL Pro-Choice America for an opt-in political action campaign.
- December 2007 - Several carriers refused to allow Rebtel, a company that offers low-cost domestic and international VoIP services, to communicate with the carriers’ customers.
- December 2009 - Verizon blocked 4INFO from reaching customers who had opted into various sports, weather, and news services.
- January 2010 - Sprint blocked Catholic Relief Services’ attempt to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief via text message.
- September 2010 - T-Mobile refused to connect EZ Texting to T-Mobile customers who had opted in to receive messages from WeedMaps.com, a client of EZ Texting. In disconnecting EZ Texting, T-Mobile also blocked communication from all of EZ Texting’s clients, including Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.
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