The Federal Communications Commission this week gave carriers its blessing to continue their efforts to block unwanted text messages, but opponents of the action expressed concerns that the move will allow censorship or alteration of messages.
The FCC ruling declared that both text and multimedia messages are “information services, they are not commercial mobile services” — and thus do not need to be regulated under Title II. In a press release, the agency affirmed that therefore, “wireless providers are authorized to continue their efforts to stop unwanted text messaging through robotext-blocking, anti-spoofing measures, and other anti-spam features.”
Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that classifying SMS and MMS as telecommunications services under Title II would “open the floodgates to spam texts.
“The FCC shouldn’t make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts,” Pai continued. “And we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services. But that’s precisely what would happen if we were to classify text messaging services as telecommunications services and subject them to common-carrier regulation under Title II, as mass-texting companies and others have asked us to do.”
The FCC ruling passed on a 3-1 vote, with support from Pai and commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr; Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel opposed it. In her statement, Rosenworcel said that while the agency had been petitioned to affirm “what should be obvious—that text messaging is ‘telecommunications’—which is to say that when you send a text, you expect that your carrier will send it where you want it to go without changing its content or blocking it. … Instead … this agency … [twists]the law to reach the conclusion that you no longer have the final say on where your text messages go and what they say. That means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very content of your messages.”
In addition to the ruling on messages, the FCC this week also took unanimous action to create a database of reassigned phone numbers, aimed at reducing the number of times that users with reassigned numbers get unwanted calls intended for the previous person associated with that phone number. With millions of numbers being reassigned each year, the FCC said, it had fielded requests from industry and consumer groups as well as state and federal authorities who wanted to see a single, comprehensive database established.
“Callers using the database will be able to find out if telephone numbers assigned to consumers who want their calls have been disconnected and made eligible for reassignment. Any such numbers can then be purged from their call lists, thereby decreasing the number of unwanted calls to consumers,” the FCC said.
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