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A concise view of the facts, issues, and recommendations contained in PK's text-message petition.
Facts about Text Messaging and Short Codes
People can send and receive text messages from their mobile phones. These 160-character messages can be to another mobile phone user, a political campaign, a text-based service like Google, or even a regular landline phone.
When text messaging another mobile phone user, the message is sent to his or her normal 10- digit phone number. When sending a text message to a service, typically a shorter number, referred to as a "short code," is used.
All 5- and 6-digit short codes, known as "common short codes," are administered by the Common Short Code Administration ("CSCA"), that rents them for $500 to $1,000 per month. Once the CSCA assigns a short code, each mobile carrier must provision that code to the customer. If a carrier refuses to provision a short code, people using that carrier cannot send messages to or from that code. However, CSCA fees are non-refundable, even if carriers decide not to provision a code.
Text messaging is a rapidly-growing service, and is replacing phone communications in many cases. Text messaging is used for political calls to action, social planning, distribution of health information, and communication with the deaf; the number and type of text messages being sent is increasing daily.
Real-World Examples of Discrimination
In September 2007, Verizon Wireless refused to provision a short code to NARAL pro-choice America for NARAL's completely opt-in political alert service. Despite having provisioned many other short codes for similar campaigns, Verizon informed NARAL that it "does not accept issue- oriented (abortion, war, etc) programs" and that it would refuse service to "any organization that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of [its] users." Although Verizon backed down shortly thereafter, it maintains that it is entitled to decide who its customers may communicate with through text messages and short codes, and still has not released its policies to the public.
In mid-2007, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, and Alltel all refused to provision a short code to Rebtel, which provides Voice-over-Internet- Protocol (VoIP) phone services which compete with the carriers' own offerings. Rebtel's service works by allowing customers to make long- distance or international phone calls at reduced rates by giving them a local number to call and routing the long-distance part of the call through the Internet. In order for the recipient of a Rebtel call to make the connection, Rebtel must text him or her a local phone number to call. However, customers of carriers that have refused to provision a short code to Rebtel cannot use this innovative and money-saving service. A Verizon representative stated that it had a policy of refusing short codes to companies attempting to compete with them, and Alltel stated that Rebtel's service "cannibalized" its international rates.
The FCC Should Declare that These Types of Discrimination are Unlawful
Public Knowledge, Free Press, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, EDUCAUSE, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, U.S. PIRG, and New York State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky have petitioned the FCC to declare that text messaging services are subject to S 202 non-discrimination rules.
Mobile carriers should not be gatekeepers who decide what type of speech is acceptable and what is not.
Vague assurances that a carrier's current policy is nondiscriminatory are insufficient to guarantee free speech in text messaging.
Section 202's rule against "unjust and unreasonable" discrimination would still allow carriers to block spam and other messages their customers have requested not to receive.
Text messaging services fall within the scope of Title II common carrier regulations, and so carriers should already be subject to S 202 nondiscrimination rules. Even if the FCC determines that text messaging or short codes do not fall within Title II, it can and should use its ancillary jurisdiction to apply non-discrimination rules to text messaging.
The Broadband Policy Statement (FCC 05-151) demonstrates another way for the FCC to ensure that unjust and unreasonable discrimination is prohibited in Title I information services.