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Should Mobile Phone Carriers Dictate What Type of 'Speech' is Acceptable in Text Messages?

Freespeech2 Under federal law, telecommunications companies cannot engage in "any unjust or unreasonable discrimination" related to charges, services and other practices related to voice communications. Consumer groups have been arguing for several years that text messages should also be covered by this federal communications law, but with no success.

The issue is front and center again this week, CNET reports, as T-Mobile has been sued by a text message marketing company called Ez Texting "for allegedly blocking access to the T-Mobile network because of an Ez Texting client that provided information on medical marijuana." As CNET explains, Ez Texting provides the infrastructure for the type of promotions where consumers are asked to text a word to a specific number to get more information on a product (i.e., "Text 'jeans' to 313131").

One of Ez Texting's clients, legalmarijuanadispensary.com (aka "WeedMaps") helps legal medical marijuana patients connect with other patients in their geographic region.  Legal or not, however, Ez Texting alleges in its lawsuit that T-Mobile disapproves and has now blocked its access to the T-Mobile network altogether -- an action that will allegedly put Ez Texting out of business if not reversed.

In a similar case in 2007 where Verizon allegedly refused to allow a reproductive rights organization to send text messages over Verizon's network, public interest group Public Knowledge argued to the FCC that

Mobile carriers currently can and do arbitrarily decide what customers to serve and which speech to allow on text messages, refusing to serve those that they find controversial or that compete with the mobile carriers' services. This type of discrimination would be unthinkable and illegal in the world of voice communications, and it should be so in the world of text messaging as well.

In that case, Verizon quickly backed down, stating that “the decision to not allow text messaging on an important, though sensitive, public policy issue was incorrect."


Posted by Bruce Carton on September 20, 2010 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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