|Graphic: Reality Catcher|
A federal court will hear arguments this week on EZ Texting’s suit against T-Mobile for blocking cellphone text messages. The case has ignited a debate over the government’s role as a regulator of text messaging communications on cellphones.
The U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York will conduct a hearing Thursday on allegations that T-Mobile stopped sending texts for EZ Texting’s customer WeedMaps.com, a medical marijuana distribution website, because of the content of the site, reports Cecelia Kang at The Washington Post.
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 text messages.
|Photo: EZ Texting|
|Shane Neman, EZ Texting: “This is not common industry practice, and T-Mobile never enforced this purported requirement until it learned about the website at issue here”|
T-Mobile disputed EZ Texting’s claims in comments to the court, claiming the New York-based company didn’t comply with 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 nightclubs.
When EZ Texting decided to add marketing alerts for WeedMaps.com, it did not inform T-Mobile of the addition. T-Mobile said it and the cellular industry require such notifications from is short-code partners.
EZ Texting responded to the court last Friday that it believed that WeedMaps.com texts were blocked because of the site’s content.
“This is not common industry practice, and T-Mobile never enforced this purported requirement until it learned about the website at issue here, said EZ Texting CEO Shane Neman of T-Mobile’s best practices guidelines.
According to Neman, 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 answer in a conversation with a T-Mobile employee, Neman said.
The case highlights a gray area of regulations for one of the fastest-growing forms of communications. Consumers sent 152 billion text messages last year, compared with only 9 billion in 2005.
The Federal Communications Commission doesn’t regulate text messages, which are considered an information service like broadband Internet, in the same way that it does telephone service.
The unfolding details support their push for the FCC to clearly assert its authority to regulate text messages as a common carriage service like regular phones, according to Public Knowledge, a media reform group.
The FCC prohibits calls from being blocked in a discriminating fashion, and the same rules should apply to text messages, according to 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,” Sohn said.