- Act Now
- Open Internet
- Promoting Creativity
- Open & Accessible Technology
Every once in a while, I wonder when the FCC will recognize that text messaging is actually an important way that people communicate with each other.
For three years, we have been asking the FCC to pay just the slightest attention to text messaging. For the most part, the FCC has responded with stony silence as carriers blocked competitors, blocked political messages that they deemed “controversial or unsavory”, and blocked charities trying to raise money for disaster victims, all while raising rates on consumers and businesses as the prices for all other types of communication fall.
Of course, the problem with the FCC turning a blind eye to text messages is more than just that important services are blocked. It also means that wireless carries are free to abuse their position in the market. That appears to be what is happening with T-Mobile’s apparent decision to raise prices for text messages it delivers to its users starting October 1st.
Just to be clear, T-Mobile is not talking about raising the retail price of text messages (although those prices are an embarrassingly large multiple of actual carrier cost). Instead, they are talking about the prices they charge companies that deliver services over text messages (often through short codes). These are the costs that services like Twitter, or organizations like Catholic Relief Services, or NARAL, have to pay in order to send you text messages that you have signed up for.
Why is T-Mobile raising these prices? Not because the cost of sending a text message has increased over time. Instead, they are raising it because they can. After all, they are the gateway to their millions of customers. What are the Twitter and Catholic Relief Services of the world going to do? It is not like they can just go somewhere else to reach people with T-Mobile cell phones.
This situation is a fantastic example of a problem that competition alone cannot fix. No matter how many wireless carriers there are, each carrier has a monopoly on access to its own customers. That is why, in addition to competition, the wireless communication market needs some oversight.
We have long recognized this in regards to voice calling by requiring things like interconnection between carriers and making sure that carriers charge just and reasonable rates. There is no reason why it should not do the same for text messages.
It is worth mentioning that T-Mobile is not the only wireless carrier to ever think of this. Back in 2008 Verizon tried to impose a similar rate hike (although a significantly larger one). After widespread hew and cry, Verizon backed away from what it characterized as a “proposal” and decided that the hike really was not necessary.
Even if T-Mobile pulls a Verizon and backs away from this proposal, it does not mean that the FCC should not accept that text messaging is a real communications platform. Until the FCC realizes that text messaging is part of what people buy when they buy cellular phone service, the entire industry will be plagued by uncertainty. No one will know if they are going to wake up one morning to find their business or organization suddenly disconnected from millions of users, or find the costs of doing business arbitrarily increase without justification. Without FCC action, sooner or later I’m going to have to write another blog post about yet another innovative service trampled by the whims of the wireless carriers.