T-Mobile Silences TwitterDecember 17, 2007
Well, it seems as if T-Mobile might have missed our petition on text messaging discrimination, because according to several reports, for the past several days, T-Mobile customers have been unable to send messages to the completely opt-in Twitter service. Twitter allows people to send updates from their mobile phone, the web, or instant messenging clients to update friends about what they're up to. While T-Mobile customers could still receive updates, attempts to send text messages to Twitters short-code were rejected. And even more telling than the fact that T-Mobile appears to have “turned off” Twitter was T-Mobile's response when asked about it.
When one customer emailed T-Mobile about the problem, this was the reply from the Executive Customer Relations department:
In your email, you express concerns, as you are not able to use your service for Twitter. As you have been advised, Twitter is not an authorized third-party service provider, and therefore you are not able to utilize service from this provide any longer. You indicate your feeling that this is a violation of the Net Neutrality.
T-Mobile would like to bring to your attention that the Terms and Conditions of service, to which you agreed at activation, indicate “… some Services are not available on third-party networks or while roaming. We may impose credit, usage, or other limits to Service, cancel or suspend Service, or block certain types of calls, messages, or sessions (such as international, 900, or 976 calls) at our discretion.” Therefore, T-Mobile is not in violation of any agreement by not providing service to Twitter. T-Mobile regrets any inconvenience, however please note that if you remain under contract and choose to cancel service, you will be responsible for the $200 early termination fee that would be assessed to the account at cancellation
And to translate English to English: “We can block whomever we want. We do not need to follow any Net Neutrality principles and have complete discretion in who we allow you to connect to. If you don't like that, we will charge you $200 for the privilege of taking your business elsewhere.” (For another customer's experience, check out this blog.)
At this point, it seems like the issue has been resolved, and Twitter's blog indicates that they believe the problem was a technical rather than a policy one. But regardless of the actual cause, T-Mobile's response to this incident demonstrates the need for the FCC to step in and ensure that mobile carriers cannot make these arbitrary choices about who customers are allowed to speak to.
As an interesting side-note, the Los Angeles Fire Department uses Twitter to disseminate updates about critical events in the area. Although in this particular case, customers still received updates, it raises an important question: If a T-Mobile customer doesn't get their updates, and a tragedy results, will T-Mobile be responsible? Or will the customer have to deal with it because they didn't read the draconian terms of service carefully enough?