Suit against T-Mobile for text blocking heads to federal court this week
A federal court will hear arguments this week on EZ Texting's suit against T-Mobile for for blocking cellphone text messages. The case has spurred debate over the government's role as a regulator of text-messaging communications on cellphones.
On Thursday, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York will conduct a hearing on allegations that T-Mobile stopped sending texts for EZ Texting's customer WeedMaps.com, a medical marijuana distribution Web site, because of the content of the site. EZ Texting said that T-Mobile's action stifled free speech and that rules to protect phone users from blocking should also be applied to texts.
T-Mobile disputes EZ Texting's claims in comments to the court, saying the New York-based messaging firm didn't comply by T-Mobile's best practices guidelines. EZ Texting was originally assigned the short code 313131 for cellphone users to call and receive text messages for promotions from bars and night clubs. When EZ Texting decided to add marketing alerts for WeedMaps.com, it didn't inform T-Mobile of the change. T-Mobile said it and the cellular industry require such notification from its short-code partners.
Last Friday, EZ Texting responded to the court that it believed that Weedmaps.com texts were blocked because of the site's content. Of T-Mobile's best practices guidelines, EZ Texting CEO Shane Neman said, "This is not common industry practice, and T-Mobile never enforced this purported requirement until it learned about the Web site at issue here.”
Neman said that 4INFO, the firm that gave EZ Texting its short code, learned that T-Mobile would be blocking EZ Texting because it was "considered inappropriate." An EZ Texting manager was given a similar message in a conversation with a T-Mobile employee, Neman said.
The case highlights a murky regulatory environment for one of the fastest-growing mediums of communications. Consumers sent 152 billion text messages last year, compared with 9 billion in 2005. The FCC doesn't regulate text messages, which is considered an information service like broadband Internet, in the same way that it does plain old phone service.
Public Knowledge, a media reform group, said the unfolding details support their push for the Federal Communications Commission to clearly assert its authority to regulate text messages as a common carriage service, like regular phones. The FCC prohibits calls from being blocked in a discriminating fashion, and the same rules should apply to texts, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.
"The additional details in this case again make it abundantly clear the Federal Communications Commission must act to protect the legal status of text messaging and short codes," she said.
| September 27, 2010; 9:47 AM ET
Categories: Mobile, T-Mobile
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