Advocates Ask FCC To Prohibit Text-Message Blocking

Eight years ago, Verizon Wireless stirred controversy by preventing a prominent abortion rights groupfrom sending text messages to its supporters.

After an article about the issue appeared in The New York Times, Verizon changed its position and allowed NARAL Pro-Choice America to send SMS alerts after all. But the incident prompted Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups to petition the Federal Communications Commission to prohibit wireless carriers from refusing to provide short codes based on content.

The FCC didn't act on that request, but recently signaled that it might take up questions surrounding text messaging: Last month, the agency sought public comments about a petition brought by messaging company Twilio, which argues that providers should have to follow common carrier rules when handling text messages.



"The wireless carriers' practices of blocking, throttling, and imposing discriminatory content restrictions on messaging services traffic is not only a daily occurrence, but an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network," Twilio says in its petition.

Public Knowledge (along with Free Press and Common Cause) are backing Twilio's position, arguing that the carriers currently have "free rein to abuse their gatekeeper position."

The groups add: "Discriminatory text message blocking by the carriers not only raises competitive concerns, but also interferes with free speech rights."

The telecom industry, not surprisingly, opposes Twilio's request. Verizon says in its comments to the FCC that treating messaging as a common-carrier service, which would be regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, would result in a spike in spam.

"Despite the successful growth of mobile messaging from a niche product to a massively popular means of nearly spam-free communication, Twilio wants to upend the status quo by subjecting wireless providers’ messaging services and the industry-developed common short code system to Title II," Verizon says. "That is a solution in search of a problem and would open the floodgates to spam, harming consumers that have come to depend on messaging services."

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