Today the New York Times reported that Sprint blocked Catholic Relief Services’ attempt to raise money to help victims of the Haitian earthquake. We filed a [letter] with the FCC explaining what happened, and urging the FCC to intervene. Unfortunately, this is not the first letter that PK has sent to the FCC about text messages being blocked.
The story is essentially this: shortly after the Haitian earthquake, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) moved in to help victims. Instead of using the “text to give” programs used by groups like the Red Cross (text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10), CRS decided to try a “text to call” program. Instead of a text automatically donating a fixed amount, the text to call program used a text to automatically link a potential donor to a real live CRS operator. That operator could answer any questions that the potential donor might have, and even give the potential donor the chance to volunteer with CRS. Also, unlike the text to give programs, there was no $10 limit on donations through text to call. Soon after it was up and running, Sprint shut down the program.
Don’t be surprised if this story sounds a bit familiar. In 2007, Verizon decided to block messages sent by NARAL Pro Choice America to supporters who had asked to receive them. After a story in the New York Times, Verizon reversed itself.
Of course when they reversed themselves Verizon didn’t say they would stop blocking text messages, just that they would stop blocking NARAL this time. Unfortunately, not every company has a chance to turn to the New York Times when wireless carriers are blocking them.
The only way to guarantee that this type of arbitrary blocking does not happen again is some sort of FCC oversight. On December 11, 2007 Public Knowledge, along with other public interest partners, filed a petition with the FCC asking for just that. At the time another company, Rebtel, had already come forward to complain about being blocked by wireless carriers. Later yet another company, 4INFO, reported similar problems.
And now, of course, there is CRS and Haiti. What has the FCC been up to in the over two years since our original petition? To their credit, they issued a public notice seeking comment in January of 2008. They got hundreds of responses, including comments and reply comments from the public interest community.
Unfortunately, that’s about where everything stopped. Since then the FCC has essentially ignored the text messaging petition.
Today is the day to bring their attention back. Tell the FCC that you care about using text messaging to say whatever you want, and that you should be the one to choose who sends text messages to your phone. The FCC should let the wireless carriers know that wireless carriers have plenty of other things to worry about, and it is time to stop blocking text messages that they don’t like.