Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted on a party-line vote to approve a Declaratory Ruling on “Text Messaging Classification,” classifying text messaging as a Title I information service under the Communications Act. This action enables wireless carriers to discriminate against short-messaging services (SMS) and short codes, the standard five or six-digit vanity numbers used by organizations such as Catholic Relief Services for disaster relief campaigns, or by political campaigns and marketing firms.
In my last post, I addressed how Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai isn’t really preventing robocalls with his new draft Order to classify both SMS text messaging and short codes as Title I “information services.” Now I will discuss the potential consequences for such a maneuver, and why doing so could send consumer protections tumbling down.
In December 2007, Public Knowledge filed a Petition For Declaratory Ruling asking the Federal Communications Commission to clarify that both SMS text messaging and short codes are “Title II” telecommunications services. Put another way, we asked the FCC to reaffirm the basic statutory language that if you use telephones and the telephone network to send information from one telephone number to another, it meets the definition of “telecommunications service” (47 U.S.C. 153(53)).
On April 17, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on paid prioritization -- an issue that is central to the net neutrality debate. While most internet service providers (ISPs) have claimed that they have no plans to block or degrade traffic once the Federal Communications Commission's 2017 net neutrality repeal Order goes into effect (exactly when that will be remains TBD), commitments (or lack thereof) not to engage in paid prioritization have remained a moving target. These commitments are shifting with the political winds, and ISPs are including plenty of wiggle room to allow them to argue they haven’t misled consumers if they eventually choose to offer prioritization deals.