The backlash has already begun against a reported fee of one quarter of one cent T-Mobile USA plans to impose on businesses for each text message they send over its network starting October.
The charge could have an impact on a range of companies including Twitter, Facebook and SMS marketer 4INFO, which send billions of text messages to millions of users. While T-Mobile has so far not confirmed the new fee, 4INFO CEO Zaw Thet said the company was notified about the fee last week by T-Mobile. (T-Mobile didn't respond to a media inquiry about the fee today.)
As others have pointed out, the step isn't without precedent. Verizon Wireless in 2008 tried to impose a charge of three cents per text alert only to back off the idea after sparking loud protests from text companies. Of course, the cost to mobile consumers since then has typically increased to 20 cents per text without a messaging plan.
Now 4INFO's Thet and others are sounding off over the proposed T-Mobile "text tax," though, at a quarter of a cent, it's smaller than what Verizon planned to charge.
"We recognize the economic realities of the times, but it is very disappointing that T-Mobile is taking this action against their own consumers and the mobile industry," said Thet in a statement. "This action will stifle (or reverse) growth of mobile messaging service businesses, harming not only consumers but also T-Mobile itself."
He went on to predict that message volume will go down as businesses pass the costs of such programs to consumers, and consumers shift to carriers that can provide full access to mobile content. 4INFO sends out messages including sports scores, status updates and special offers on behalf of publishers including Yahoo, AOL, Zynga, CBS and IAC. "The implications of this move from T-Mobile are far-reaching and damaging in the long term," added Thet.
Separately, advocacy group Public Knowledge weighed in, saying the text fee would amount to a "market-power" tax on every business that uses text messaging. "There is no indication that the cost that any carrier charges aggregators and mobile service providers to send messages reflects the actual costs of transmission. Similarly, there is no indication that a cost increase reflects any increase of the cost to transmit the message," said the nonprofit's legal director, Harold Feld, in a statement.
If T-Mobile is successful, Feld expects other carriers to follow suit with their own text fees on business-to-consumer messages. He called on the Federal Communications Commission to step in to stop the carriers from using their powerful position in the market to impose such charges.
As the smallest of the major U.S. carriers, T-Mobile would seem to have less leverage than Verizon in pushing ahead with an SMS fee. But it's probably bargaining that charging a quarter of one cent instead of three cents, or even a penny, will give the measure a better chance of acceptance. So far, though, it doesn't sound as if text companies and other groups are any more open to the move than they were two years ago.