FCC To Deny Public Knowledge Petition, Permit Carriers Blocking Political Text Messages

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Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed a Declaratory Ruling denying Public Knowledge’s outstanding Petition For Declaratory Ruling after Verizon temporarily blocked NARAL from sending mass text message alerts to its members on legislation impacting reproductive rights.

Public Knowledge asked the FCC to affirm that text messaging was a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, making it illegal for carriers to block messages like NARAL’s (a request subsequently made again by Twilio in 2015). Instead, Chairman Pai will side with wireless carriers and declare text messaging a Title I “information service” on the grounds that allowing carriers to discriminate will help prevent “unwanted” text messages.

In his blog post on Medium describing the proposed item, Chairman Pai not only fails to mention Public Knowledge’s 2007 Petition and Verizon’s deliberate blocking of NARAL, but blatantly mischaracterizes the law by ignoring the FCC’s 2016 Declaratory Ruling authorizing carrier blocking and filtering of spam and robocalls. (The FCC’s official press release does mention the Public Knowledge Petition.)

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“It wouldn’t be the holiday season without Chairman Pai giving a great big gift basket to corporate special interests at the expense of American consumers. Chairman Pai proposes to grant the wireless industry’s request to classify text messages as Title I ‘information services,’ stripping away vital consumer protections. Worse, Chairman Pai’s action would give carriers unlimited freedom to censor any speech they consider ‘controversial,’ as Verizon did in 2007 when it blocked NARAL and prompted the Public Knowledge 2007 Petition.

“Chairman Pai supports this outrageous action by claiming the Title II ‘telecommunications service’ classification undermines spam filtering. As the FCC made clear in 2016 (over then-Commissioner Pai’s dissent), text messages and robocalls are both ‘calls’ under the anti-robocall statute, and this Title II designation does not prevent filtering or other technological means to block unwanted robocalls or spam texts. Indeed, Chairman Pai undermines his own argument by pointing out that email, which has always been an information service, has a 50 percent spam rate whereas text messaging, which the FCC treats as a ‘phone call,’ has a 2.5 percent spam rate.”

You may view our 2007 petition requesting the FCC protect the rights of consumers to use text messaging without undue interference from wireless companies.

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