Public Knowledge, joined by a prominent state legislator as well as consumer and public interest groups, today told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that extending consumer protections to text messaging will not harm wireless carriers’ ability to fight spam or other harms to their network.
“This filing further bolsters a compelling case that text messaging and short codes are vital forms of communications and deserve protection from discrimination imposed by wireless companies,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. “We hope the Commission will act quickly to prevent discrimination against millions of text messaging consumers,” she said. The original petition asking the Commission to make certain that text messages and the short codes used to dial them are protected from interference from telephone companies was filed Dec. 11, 2007.
In a response to arguments made to the Commission by the cellular industry, Public Knowledge and its allies said that recent developments show that the need for the Commission to prohibit discrimination in text messaging is even greater than when the group’s petition was first filed in April. Joining Public Knowledge on its filing were Free Press, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, EDUCAUSE, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, U.S. PIRG, Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky of New York, and CREDO Mobile, Inc.
While the cellular industry argued that prohibiting discrimination could result in an increase in spam, Public Knowledge and others told the Commission: “There is no evidence that applying non-discrimination principles, either through Title II or Title I, would have any effect on the amount of spam received by wireless consumers or the ability of wireless providers to block spam. If this Petition is granted in full, wireless providers would still retain all their current rights and capabilities to filter and block unsolicited e-mails from reaching consumers who do not wish to receive them.”
The groups noted that, “Wireless providers are permitted to block spam even under a Title II regime, just as landline telephone companies are permitted to disconnect callers who abuse their use of their telephone.”
In addition, the industry promotes discriminatory practices in assigning short codes for text messaging, the filing said: “The carriers’ discriminatory practices allow the wireless providers to use their position as short code ‘gatekeepers’ to gain an unfair advantage in and thereby distort the marketplace. For instance, it has been alleged that some banks were unable to obtain approval to use short codes at the same time that the wireless carriers were rolling out their own banking services. And Rebtel continues to have trouble obtaining approval to use short codes because it provides a service (international phone calls) that competes with the wireless carriers.”
Further, cellular companies such as Verizon are imposing their own “corporate values” on the content of text messages, the filing said: “Verizon’s content guidelines go much further and limit legal content that Verizon considers ‘inappropriate’ based on its ‘corporate values.’”
The filing added: ‘Verizon exercises enormous control over uses of short codes, determining which uses are “appropriate’ and ‘in good taste.’ In stark contrast, Verizon’s Internet policy contains no such restrictions.” Text messages, for example are not allowed by policy to “disparage” Verizon. The filing also noted that the industry’s short code primer acknowledges that wireless providers discriminate against content.
Wireless providers told the Commission that short codes used to connect text messaging are primarily a means of advertising. But the public-interest filing disagreed. New uses for text messaging unveiled since the petition was filed include a United Nations campaign for peace, an organization using texting to encourage voting and the Boston police urging citizens to report crimes via texting. None of those uses is deemed “acceptable” by the industry standards, the filing said.
The filing is here:
The original petition, filed in December, is here:
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