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T-Mobile sued for blocking medical marijuana text messages

T-Mobile was sued last week for allegedly blocking text messages from a medical marijuana Web site, in a case that highlights a debate over whether federal regulators should apply rules against blocking phone-line content to text messages.

In its suit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, text marketing firm EZ Texting said T-Mobile blocked its short code 313131 for Web site WeedMaps.com. The site connects medical marijuana users, and EZ Texting had been sending alerts to customers looking for the location of doctors, cooperatives and centers that distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

EZ Texting said that by blocking WeedMaps, T-Mobile has overstepped its role as a communications carrier and has impeded the speech rights of cellphone users.

“We were told that T-Mobile didn’t approve of the Web site, which is totally legal,” said Shane Neman, chief executive of EZ Texting. “But we feel this is illegal blocking and that consumers have the right to send and receive any text message of their choosing.”

The court denied EZ Texting’s motion for early relief. A hearing is set for Sept. 30, according to EZ Texting.

A spokesman for T-Mobile didn’t respond directly to questions about blocking the texts from WeedMaps. The company sent the following statement by e-mail:

“We are pleased that the court denied EZ Texting’s motion for early relief, which would have required T-Mobile to reinstate the shortcode. We believe the claims in the lawsuit are meritless.”

Public Knowledge, a media reform advocacy group, has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to look at text messages as a communications medium, like phone calls. Phone lines are subject to common carrier rules that prevent a service provider from blocking calls. The public interest group’s petition, filed in 2007, hasn’t been taken up by the agency. Consumers sent 152 billion text messages last year, compared with 9 billion in 2005.

Other carriers have received similar criticism. In 2007, Verizon Wireless allegedly blocked texts by the abortion rights group NARAL. Sprint Nextel was criticized this year for allegedly blocking some text messages that automatically connected to call centers for donations to Catholic Charities for Haiti earthquake relief.

“This is about a telecommunications firm having too much control,” said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge. “And the issue is that there is no legal authority to stop that or step in when a carrier decides to block a text.”

By Cecilia Kang  | September 20, 2010; 4:06 PM ET
Categories:  FCC, Mobile, T-Mobile  
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Comments

It's simply astounding that there are people and corporations that think it's OK to keep people from communicating with each other because they (or others) disapprove of the subject matter of their conversation. Just try signing up for one of the mainstream dating sites like match.com and put in your ad that you're '420 friendly'. I've never quite understood that reasoning. Do they really think that the people signed up for their sites that are not 420 friendly want to waste their time communicating with someone who is? I know I don't want to waste my time communicating with someone who isn't 420 friendly as I prefer to communicate with those that have at least a modicum of intelligence.

Posted by: bpayne2 | September 21, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Okay, bpayne2, I'll bite... what is "420 friendly"??

Posted by: Harridan | September 21, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, I would like for MetroPCS to be able to block text messages from the drug dealers. I recently switched to MetroPCS and very happy about the service, BUT I'm getting dozens of text messages each week from several of the Medical Marijuana sellers. I don't want these messages and would love to find a way to make them stop sending them or to somehow block them.

Posted by: jsheehy | September 21, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Harridan,
Are you serious? Doesn't the context give you a clue?

Posted by: kevrei | September 21, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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