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Two More Text-Message Defenders

Kim Hart

For months, consumer advocates have been pressuring the Federal Communications Commission to prevent cellphone companies from interfering with text message traffic. In a filing with the agency today, public interest group Public Knowledge spearheaded another effort to urge regulators to take formal action.

The position of Public Knowledge, Free Press, Consumers Union, Media Access Project and others have been voiced before. The groups believe wireless carriers shouldn't have "editorial control" over text messages based on their content or source. The debate stems from a previous incident in which Verizon Wireless declined to carry a short code for abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Verizon Wireless quickly reversed its decision and allowed the text message traffic on its network. Consumer groups have been pushing the FCC to develop a formal policy to prevent future incidents.

But today another perspective surfaced in a press call on the issue. Advocates for blind and deaf consumers talked about how important text messages have become to their communities. For the deaf and hard-of-hearing, text messages are an essential form of communications, said Karen Peltz Strauss, a legal consultant for the Communication Service for the Deaf. She said she wants to make sure text messaging is just as accessible as regular voice calls under the Communications Act, and, therefore, protected from interference.

"Just as other forms of text-based services, including faxes and TTY transmissions provided over wireline and wireless networks, must be accessible by people with disabilities under this section of the Act, we want to make sure that text messaging remains accessible to and usable by people with disabilities," she said.

Paul Schroeder, president of the American Foundation for the Blind, said text messages should be defined as a telecommunications service, so that wireless carriers may someday be required to convert "these inherently visual messages to another form, providing people with various types of disabilities an equal opportunity to use this important communications tool."

It seems the arguments have expanded beyond protecting the content of text messages. There's now also a call to protect text-messaging itself.

In response, Verizon Wireless argued that short codes, which are often used to opt into text messaging campaigns, are not subject to the Communications Act. The carrier also said regulation of text-messaging is unwarranted.

Here is an excerpt from Verizon Wireless' filing with the FCC:

"Petitioners and their supporters claim that text messaging and short code-based promotional campaigns need regulation because they are innovative and growing in popularity. But, just the opposite is true. Text messaging and short-code campaigns are thriving in an unregulated environment, in which wireless providers have implemented various guidelines and standards to protect consumers from illegal and unwanted content, spam and inadvertent charges."

By Kim Hart  |  April 14, 2008; 2:34 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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There is some evidence that a large number of people with disabilities use text messaging. This would support appeals to make text messaging more accessible.

Results to date of a survey by the Wireless RERC (www.wirelessrerc.org)
seem to support the comments by both Karen Peltz Strauss and Paul Schroeder regarding the need for accessibility to test messaging by people with disabilities.

More than 1200 people with disabilities have responded to this survey since
it began in April, 2007. When asked to rate the most important functions
of wireless devices, 43% cited text messaging among the top five.

Posted by: John Morris | April 15, 2008 11:20 AM

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