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Eight public interest groups, led by Public Knowledge, today told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that telephone companies should not have the legal ability to interfere with text messages.
"For many people, texting has replaced calling as a way of keeping in touch," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "The FCC should make certain that text messages, and the short codes used to dial them, are protected from interference from telephone companies."
In September, Verizon declined to issue short codes to NARAL Pro Choice America so that the group's members could sign up to receive messages for timely political response. Verizon ultimately rescinded its policy on short codes after a public outcry, promising a new one at some point. In addition, there have been reports that Verizon and others will not provide text-messaging services to competitors.
"Verizon's decision to allow NARAL to have its members sign up for text messages is laudable, but it's not good enough. We need to have the FCC set the rules for the entire industry, and for a generation of people that depends on texting. There is no place for discrimination in text messaging," Sohn said.
Other groups signing the petition are: Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, EDUCAUSE, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation and U.S. PIRG. A copy of the filing is here (PDF).
The petition argues: "Mobile carriers currently can and do arbitrarily decide what customers to serve and which speech to allow on text messages, refusing to serve those that they find controversial or that compete with the mobile carriers' services. This type of discrimination would be unthinkable and illegal in the world of voice communications, and it should be so in the world of text messaging as well."
The petition asks:
"The FCC should act immediately to declare that text messaging services, including those sent to and from short-codes, are governed by the anti-discrimination provisions of Title II of the Communications Act, and that discrimination is therefore prohibited in providing these services. If the Commission chooses not to find that text messaging services are governed by Title II, it should use its Title I ancillary jurisdiction to apply the nondiscrimination provisions of Title II to these services to ensure a robust and open communications infrastructure. In either case, the Commission should make it explicit that these discriminatory actions will not be tolerated in the future."
"Free speech should be protected everywhere -- whether it's text messages, phone calls, e-mails or the Internet," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. "But unless the FCC explicitly prohibits blocking and interference on all these platforms, the censorship policies of Verizon and AT&T are what we can expect to see time and again. If we can't trust these corporate gatekeepers to deliver a text message, why would we chance handing over the future of all communications?"
"For many college students today, text messaging is the preferred way of communication, many times more popular than email. They assume that their personal communications will not be blocked or otherwise discriminated against regardless of the technology they choose be it cell phone, email, Facebook or text messaging," said Wendy Wigen, government relations officer for EDUCAUSE. "The recent events concerning NARAL and Verizon challenge that assumption. The time has come for the FCC to clarify and standardize the rules across technological protocols."
"Consumers have a real expectation that the phone company won't tamper with their phone calls--they should be able to expect the same with text messages," said Chris Murray, senior counsel for Consumers Union.