Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday he wants the agency to classify text messaging as an “information” service -- a move that would allow carriers to block SMS messages.
Pai's proposal is a blow to mobile marketing company Twilio -- which had petitioned the FCC to classify text messaging as a “telecommunications” service -- as well as Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups.
The FCC Chair contends that classifying text messages as a telecom service -- which would subject carriers to some common carrier rules, such as a ban on blocking -- would harm companies' ability to combat text-spam.
“Aside from being a more legally sound approach, this decision would keep the floodgates to a torrent of spam texts closed, remove regulatory uncertainty, and empower providers to continue finding innovative ways to protect consumers from unwanted text messages,” Pai said Tuesday in a blog post.
But Public Knowledge says that carriers can block robo-texts even if text messaging generally is considered a telecom service, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act.
“Title II designation does not prevent filtering or other technological means to block unwanted robocalls or spam texts,” Harold Feld, Public Knowledge senior vice president, stated Tuesday.
Feld added that Pai's proposal "would give carriers unlimited freedom to censor any speech they consider ‘controversial.'"
In 2015, Twilio asked the FCC to prohibit wireless carriers from blocking or otherwise restricting messages based on content. The company called the practice “an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network.”
Public Knowledge, Free Press and Common Cause sided with Twilio, arguing that carriers currently are able to “abuse their gatekeeper petition.”
Public Knowledge first raised concerns about the issue back in 2007, when Verizon Wireless prevented a prominent abortion rights group from 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.