Dont Believe the Hype: Carriers Hide Behind Spam to Protect their Corporate Values From Your Speech

October 2, 2008 ,

Remember how we filed a petition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking them to make sure that carriers are nondiscriminatory when it comes to text messages? While we haven’t posted about it much lately, work on the issue has been chugging quietly along behind the scenes. Today, all of the parties of the original petition filed a follow-up letter at the Commission dealing with some of the arguments which have been raised, primarily by Verizon Wireless and CTIA (the industry group for wireless carriers). The short version is that carriers claim they won’t be able to stop spam if they can’t also pick and choose who is allowed to text with you. Needless to say, we disagree.

Chief bogeyman in this fight is spam). Nobody likes spam (although some people allegedly like Spam), and it’s a good thing that carriers do what they can to stop it. But many carriers argue that if we make access to text messaging and short codes (those 5- and 6- digit phone numbers for texting) nondiscriminatory, they’ll be unable to stop spammers from sending you unsolicited text messages by the truckload, and this simply isn’t true. The FCC’s antidiscrimination rules – which no one denies apply to voice service – prohibit only “unjust and unreasonable discrimination.”. And just like in phone service, where Verizon itself points out that it can disconnect someone for making abusive calls, carriers could block spammers from sending unwanted messages. In fact, right now, all messages sent from short codes are “opt-in,” meaning that they can only send you messages if you ask to receive them. By continuing this policy, carriers could still keep a lid on unsolicited spam in a nondiscriminatory world.

The flip side of the discrimination coin is “corporate values.” That’s right – according to their Content Policy, Verizon wants to make sure that text messages match their “corporate values as well as those of [their] business partners and customers.” But apparently those customers are not able or allowed to decide for themselves what speech they want to receive and what speech they don’t. Likewise, the Mobile Marketing Association’s Common Short Code Primer lists “Acceptable” and “Unacceptable” uses for text messages. And what happens if someone wants to say something that doesn’t match up with a carrier’s corporate values or is deemed legal but not “Acceptable” speech? The carrier can simply choose not to connect that person's short code to its customers, even if those customers affirmatively request to receive that content. And I sure hope you don’t want to use short codes for the unforgivable crime of criticizing your carrier, because at least on Verizon, messages you send from a short code address “cannot disparage Verizon Wireless or its affiliates.”

In summary: 1) Don’t believe the hype – we can have nondiscrimination without spam; 2) Send someone you love an official Federal Trade Commission anti-phishing e-card; and 3) Read our press release and our letter and its appendix for more information.