Blown To Bits

Freedom of Texting

Friday, April 11th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

If you use your phone to talk about how bad your phone company is, could the phone company cut off your service?

The answer, believe it or not, seems to be, “It depends.” If you are merely talking on the phone, then no, the phone company has to let you do it. But if you are texting, the answer seems to be yes, your service could legally be terminated.

The reason this gets tricky even to explain is that there really is no such thing as a phone company any more. Verizon, which absorbed my old land line company, sells video services. Comcast, which used to be my cable TV company, now provides my residential “land line” service.

“Common carrier” laws have applied in the past to railroads (they couldn’t pick and choose among passengers; anyone with the money to buy a ticket is equally entitled to a seat) and to telephones (so phone companies couldn’t pick and choose their customers on political grounds, for example). As discussed in Blown to Bits, Verizon denied Naral Pro-Choice America the opportunity to create a text messaging group on the basis that it might be used for ‘controversial’ messages. It backed down on the case but not on its legal right to discriminate as it chose.

The FCC is now accepting comments on how text messaging should be treated in the code, like telephoning, where the service provider can’t control what the customers say, or like broadcasting, where the people who own the antenna get editorial control over what gets said. If you think this is a ridiculous no-brainer, you’re mistaken. It’s a real battle and the FCC needs to hear from as many people as possible.

The easiest thing to do is to go to the webform on the Public Knowledge site and to fill it out. PK also has a great deal more information about the issue. There is only a short window of opportunity; please act!

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