Two leading public-interest groups today renewed their call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to safeguard text messaging after they revealed that Sprint will shut down a fund-raising campaign aimed at helping earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Public Knowledge and Free Press said this new incident provided fresh evidence that the FCC needs to act to prevent telephone companies from having unlimited power to shut down text-messaging campaigns they may not like for whatever reason they wish. A petition filed by those two groups and others asking the FCC to protect text messaging from the whims of big telephone companies has been pending at the FCC since Dec. 11, 2007, after Verizon arbitrarily denied NARAL Pro-Choice America a short code for text messages to be sent to that group’s members.
The current Haiti campaign, sponsored by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), was structured to raise more money than the standard $10 donation limit imposed by carriers; instead, it raised an average donation many times higher before being ordered to stop. Unlike other campaigns, in which donations were made by responding to a text message from a mobile phone, the CRS campaign allowed prospective donors to make a phone call to the relief agency and to speak with a person at the relief agency. Jed Alpert, founder of Mobile Commons, the company providing the text-messaging service to CRS, said in a filing with the FCC that Sprint has yet to explain why it arbitrarily terminated the program.
“The implications of this case go well beyond the growing number of ‘anecdotal cases,’ so far documented in the record,” the filing said, adding: “The Commission has an opportunity to establish the rule of law with regard to text messaging and short codes. It can require that carriers deal fairly, and that non-profits and commercial enterprises have the necessary stability and legal protection from unjust and unreasonable discrimination to innovate and explore new ways to use this communications technology. But if the Commission once again turns a blind eye to carrier discrimination by letting the Petition continue to languish, this too will send a message to both carriers and to the users of short codes, and we can expect such arbitrary discrimination to continue to increase.”
Copies of the filings are here and here.
M. Chris Riley, policy counsel for Free Press said, “Text messaging users, and businesses using short codes for innovative forms of outreach, cannot be left in the lurch of loopholes. The FCC must be the cop on the beat, providing regulatory oversight to protect against gatekeeper abuse in these services.”
Harold Feld, legal director for Public Knowledge, said, “The Commission has had it within its power to stop big telephone companies from acting like medieval barons exercising justice over their serfs. It’s time for that sad state of affairs to stop. The Commission has to put an end to the arbitrary treatment of text messaging from carriers and to require carriers to deal fairly and consistently with those companies offering exciting and innovative services. If the Commission doesn’t act, the excitement and innovation will disappear in short order.”
Members of the media may contact Communications Director Shiva Stella with inquiries, interview requests, or to join the Public Knowledge press list at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-249-9435.