Texting censorship flap settled out of court
by David Kravets, wired.com | Last updated October 1, 2010 3:26 PM
A legal flap concerning whether wireless carriers may censor text messages was settled out of court Friday, leaving unanswered the highly contentious question of whether wireless carriers have the same “must carry” obligations as traditional phone companies.
The month-old New York federal case pitted T-Mobile against a texting service, which claimed the Bellevue, Washington-based wireless carrier unlawfully blocked its clients after the service sent messages on behalf of a California medical-marijuana dispensary listing site.
The full terms of the settlement were not disclosed. Lawyers involved said the agreement requires T-Mobile to stop blocking the New York-based EZ Texting service’s thousands of clients. These lawyers declined to say whether T-Mobile had to allow texts from the medical-marijuana info service, which used texts to tell its users where the nearest medical-marijuana store was.
The dispute comes as the Federal Communications Commission has been dragging its feet over clarifying the rules for wireless carriers. The FCC was asked in 2007 to announce clear guidelines whether wireless carriers, unlike their wireline brethren, may ban legal content they do not support. The so-called “network neutrality” issue made huge headlines earlier this year when Google, along with Verizon, urged Congress not to bind wireless carriers to the same rules as wireline carriers.
EZ Texting offers a short code service, which works like this: A church could send its schedule to a mobile phone user who texted “CHURCH” to 313131. Mobile phone users only receive text messages from EZ Texting’s customers upon request. Each of its clients gets their own special word.
T-Mobile wrote in a filing last month that it had the “discretion to require pre-approval (PDF) for any short-code marketing campaigns run on its network, and to enforce its guidelines by terminating programs for which a content provider failed to obtain the necessary approval.”
Such approval is necessary, T-Mobile added, “to protect the carrier and its customers from potentially illegal, fraudulent, or offensive marketing campaigns conducted on its network.”
A similar text-messaging flap occurred in 2007, but ended without litigation, when Verizon reversed itself and allowed an abortion-rights group to send text messages to its supporters.
Days ago, Congress shelved a last-minute attempt to pass net neutrality legislation, prompting its supporters to call for the FCC to act on its own.