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FCC gives carriers control over your texts

by on27 December 2018

So much for the Land of the Free

The Federal Communications Commission voted to give wireless carriers more control over your text messages.

The FCC claims the move is a victory for consumers who have been bombarded with spam texts, however, it also means that the carriers can control what is said in texts. Ironically though it is basically the FCC applying the same net neutrality rules to mobile messaging.

The FCC reclassifies both SMS and MMS texts as “information services” under Title I of the Communications Act. Information services, however, aren’t subject to the same level of regulations as Title II-classified “telecommunication services” like phone calls, which is how they were classified before the December 12 decision.

In its press release, the FCC frames its decision, which was passed 3-1 along party lines, as helping wireless providers protect consumers from annoying robotexts and spam messages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told CNET: “The FCC shouldn’t make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts. And we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services.”

But it means that texts sent through your phone’s default texting app can be monitored, censored, and now blocked.

In 2007, Verizon blocked messages from abortion-rights group NARAL to its supporters. The recent FCC vote makes it easier for carriers to do this, or other actions like it.

Using their new-found powers carriers could force businesses, advocacy organisations, first responders, doctors, and any others to pay for more expensive shortcode system or enterprise text messaging to reach their audience, rather than by traditional text messages. Carriers could also censor legal text messages if they believe that the content is controversial.

Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and one of the lawmakers leading the effort to stop the reclassification, reiterated this point in a statement condemning the FCC’s vote.

“The FCC must promote competition and freedom of speech over our telecommunications networks. With this action, the FCC [is] stifling free speech by giving telephone carriers the freedom to block any text message they wish, potentially harming competition and our democratic values.”

Ironically, the move could kill off SMS entirely in the US as there are other alternatives such as signal that the carriers can do nothing about.

Last modified on 27 December 2018
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