Eight consumer and public-interest groups filed a petition with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) asking to prohibit carriers from blocking advertisements sent via text messaging. This petition comes after Verizon Wireless decided in September to block text messages on its network from abortion rights group Naral ProChoice America. The decision was reversed the same day and the ads were allowed.
“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,” says the petition, filed Tuesday. “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.”
Mobile carriers have also blocked VoIP (voice over the Internet Protocol) provider Rebtel from advertising its mobile voice calls on their networks. Carriers “publicly admitted that they denied Rebtel’s request because Rebtel’s services competed with their own,” the petition says. “The wireless industry should not be permitted to make these discriminatory decisions.”
Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson doesn’t think carriers should have to display advertising from competitors. Nelson said Verizon’s decision not to run ads from Rebtel is similar to a newspaper not running an ad for another newspaper. “We’re not blocking anything,” he said. “We’re not allowing them to advertise.”
If the petition is granted by the FCC, spam may be coming to your mobile phone by way of text messaging. Nelson said that Verizon currently blocks between 100 million and 200 million unwanted text messages advertising pornography and other products. Nelson fears too many unsolicited text messages will cause people to stop using the service.
“I don’t think [the consumer groups] understand what would happen if they’re successful,” he said. “If the folks who filed with the FCC get their way, it’d be a free-for-all.”
In some parts of southeastern Asia, mobile phone subscribers are already getting over 20 spam text messages a day. This can be a drag on the service and make it less convenient. But consumer groups fear that carriers have too much power when it comes to censoring what messages a person can receive.
“For many people, texting has replaced calling as a way of keeping in touch,” Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “We need to have the FCC set the rules for the entire industry, and for a generation of people that depends on texting. There is no place for discrimination in text messaging.”