The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified fixed and mobile Internet access this year as “common carrier services.” This reclassification falls under Title II of the Communications Act. It aims to use net neutrality rules to prevent carriers from blocking text messages.
What kind of text messages? Bulk text messages, which at this time aren’t exactly regulated. Bulk texting, as with bulk emailing, is a huge business, and many bulk texts are useful. Others fall under the spam variety, such as those saying the receiver has won the lottery and has to pay a certain amount to “unlock” the winnings. And while blocking “spammy” text messages may seem like a good idea, what constitutes spam is currently under review.
Verizon created a lot of controversy some eight years ago when it blocked messages to users from an abortion rights organization. The carrier reversed its stance following a New York Times article about the issue, however it caused Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups to petition the FCC. The groups urged the agency to disallow wireless carriers from refusing to provide short codes because of content.
The FCC didn’t respond to the request, however the agency recently solicited public comments regarding a petition started by Twilio, a messaging company who argues carriers must adhere to common carrier rules regarding text messages.
"The wireless carriers' practices of blocking, throttling, and imposing discriminatory content restrictions on messaging services traffic is not only a daily occurrence, but an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network," Twilio said in a petition.
The messaging company received support from Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press, all of which stated carriers currently have "free rein to abuse their gatekeeper position,” and that "Discriminatory text message blocking by the carriers not only raises competitive concerns, but also interferes with free speech rights."
Unsurprisingly, AT&T, Verizon, and the CTIA—a trade group representing most wireless carriers—are asking the FCC to reject Twilio’s request. T-Mobile and Sprint did not make official statements, however they are represented by the CTIA.
"Twilio frames its Petition as an effort to curb what it calls the 'blocking' and 'throttling' of messaging traffic but in fact, Twilio is asking the Commission to invalidate consumer-protection measures that prevent massive quantities of unlawful and unwanted mobile messaging spam from reaching and harming consumers," CTIA wrote.
Verizon’s comments to the FCC were similar:
"Despite the successful growth of mobile messaging from a niche product to a massively popular means of nearly spam-free communication, Twilio wants to upend the status quo by subjecting wireless providers’ messaging services and the industry-developed common short code system to Title II," Verizon wrote. "That is a solution in search of a problem and would open the floodgates to spam, harming consumers that have come to depend on messaging services."
The FCC's net neutrality order was put in effect last March and prevents carriers from block messages delivered over the Internet. However, the FCC did not make clarifications regarding traditional text messages.