FCC Must Stop Telecom Carriers From Acting Like 'Medieval Barons,' Says Digital Rights Group
The digital rights groups Free Press and Public Knowledge have reiterated a request that the Federal Communications Commission establish new regulations governing text messaging.
"Rather than impose a rule of law to govern text messaging, the Commission has allowed carriers to act like medieval barons exercising high and low justice over their serfs -- exacting whatever fees they desire and expecting businesses and non-profits to beg for the privilege to innovate as an act of grace rather than expect to make plans as a matter of right," the groups wrote in a letter filed on Thursday.
The letter came on the heels of a report in The New York Times alleging that Sprint had threatened to cut off a short code used by the charity Catholic Relief Services to raise funds for Haiti.
Catholic Relief Services uses the short code aggregator Mobile Commons as an intermediary. Jed Alpert, a founder of Mobile Commons, said in a declaration that he learned in January that Sprint intended to discontinue Catholic Relief Services' short code unless the charity stopped its text-to-call program -- which offers to connect people who send in text messages to a call center. He also alleged that Sprint said it would cut off the short code on March 29.
A Sprint spokesperson said Thursday that the company has no plans to cut off the charity's short code. "Sprint has not blocked the short codes in question, has not threatened to block the short code in question, and does not have any intention to suspend the short code in question," says Public Affairs Manager John Taylor.
Taylor also says that Sprint merely requested that Mobile Commons provide additional information, including certifications that all of the charities it works with are entitled to nonprofit status under the tax code. "Vetting charities is not our core competency," Taylor says.
Public Knowledge and Free Press first asked the FCC to prohibit wireless companies from censoring text messages more than two years ago, shortly after reports surfaced that Verizon barred the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America from sending messages to supporters. The company reversed its decision after an article about the situation ran in The New York Times. Earlier in 2007, several carriers refused to run text messages from a rival, Rebtel, that offers Voice over Internet Protocol service.
The digital rights groups are asking the FCC to either classify text messages as "Title 2" services -- which would mean that common carrier rules apply to them -- or to use some other legal theory to ban discrimination. "In the absence of even the threat of regulatory oversight, carriers have continued to impose new fees, new requirements, and new restrictions on both nonprofits and commercial enterprises attempting to utilize this increasingly popular means of communication," they argue.