Wireless Companies Say that they Can Censor Your Speech—Tell the FCC They Can’t!

This Monday, April 14, is the deadline for submitting reply comments to the FCC on the issue of whether wireless phone companies should be able to block text messages based on their source or content. Several months ago, Public Knowledge, Free Press and a number of other organizations filed a petition asking the FCC to declare such practices to be illegal. The petition arose out of two incidents involving wireless companies: 1) Verizon refused to give a "short code" to the National Abortion Rights Action League to disseminate an action alert text message its members asked to receive, but which Verizon determined to be too controversial; and 2) Verizon, T-Mobile and Alltell refused to carry the text messages of competitive Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers.

So what have been the responses of the wireless carriers to our petition? AT&T, Verizon and their trade group, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), have made three main arguments:

1) Wireless carriers are not like regular telephone companies which must carry all speech regardless of the source or content; instead they are more like broadcasters, and therefore should have editorial control over content;

2) Wireless carriers' free speech rights to use their networks in ways they see fit trumps your free speech rights; and

3) A regulation prohibiting wireless companies from blocking text messages would prevent those companies from protecting users from spam, pornography and other bad text messages.

What the carriers are saying, in other words, is that they should have sole discretion to determine what text messages you receive, even if you have already agreed to receive those messages from a specific source! In addition to being paternalistic, it is anticompetitive and antidemocratic. For 100 years, these same companies were prohibited in engaging in this type of discriminatory behavior over their landline networks. Things should be no different just because the means of transmission is wireless.

The FCC needs to hear from people like you. Please tell them how you use text messaging in your everyday life, and tell them that wireless phone companies should leave text messages alone. Like the landline voice call of old, text messaging is the way people communicate today. And like the landline voice call of old, the network provider should not have control over the content. We have an easy way for you to send a note to the FCC here.

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