The FCC Wants To Give Carriers The Power To Block Text Messages But Thousands Of People Are Against It

Thousands of people sent letters to FCC to oppose the decision to give carriers more power over text messages.Image from Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Thousands of users have sent letters of opposition to the decision made by the Federal Communication Commission that would allow telecom companies to block or charge certain group messages differently, in a move that has triggered grassroots response questioning the FCC’s anti-consumer policies.

In essence, the decision of the FCC gives mobile carriers the ability to block or charge senders more for certain messages. The decision was first made on December 2018 and critics have claimed that the real issue in the policy that gives more power to telecom companies over text messaging is a free-speech issue that could negatively impact activists and non-profit organizations.

Previously, eight senators opposing the decision wrote a letter to the office of Ajit Pai, the chair of the agency that is tasked to regulate telecommunications. According to the letter, the controversial decision would have a negative impact on advocacy groups because “carriers could force businesses, advocacy organizations, first responders, doctors, and many others” to pay more to reach their audiences via text messages.

The FCC, in an attempt to sugarcoat the impact of the decision, neatly framed the announcement of its decision, reclassifying SMS and MMS as “information services” rather than “telecommunication services” like phone calls, as a benefit to consumers, claiming that the policy will better protect consumers from robo-texting and spamming.

While robo-texts and text spams are genuinely a problem that the FCC needs to resolve as it is the worst form of telecommunication harassment, giving wireless broadband service providers more powers over text messages (primarily that the new policy does not provide any guarantee for counterchecking) is a dangerous slope for the agency to slide into.

As a response, Public Knowledge’s attorney John Bergmeyer filed a petition for reconsideration on behalf of his organization to pressure the FCC to overturn its decision over the new policy and push back on its plan to give carriers more powers over text messaging services. Public Knowledge is an internet rights group that has been fighting for internet neutrality and freedom of information.

Tuesday marks the last day for members of the public to sign the petition and write to the FCC in support of the Public Knowledge. In addition to Public Knowledge and the eight senators who publicly expressed their opposition to the decision by Ajit Pai’s office, 20 more groups and non-profits including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote a group letter to oppose the new policy.

In December, they said that “based on numerous incidents in the past, we fear that permitting carriers to block messages without any oversight will result in censoring time-critical speech, hamper efforts to organize political engagement, and severely restrict the ability of civil rights organizations, and other non-commercial organizations to use texting platforms to their full capacity.”

The decision of the FCC to give more power to carriers is not the only controversy being faced by the agency in recent years. Previously, the commission was heavily slammed over their move that would hamper net neutrality. Many people opposing the net neutrality revocation expressed their opposition to the policy through the online commenting system. The comments came in huge waves paralyzing the system altogether for a while.

Speaking of the online commenting system and net neutrality: the agency has also been criticized for refusing to grant Freedom of Information Act requests by journalists and lawmakers over the alleged identity theft that has happened in the comment system of the organization during the net neutrality revocation. Recently, the agency was ordered by the court to pay a hefty amount of money to a journalist who filed a lawsuit against FCC over violations of the FOIA, but the trial has not forced the agency to produce the requested documents.

In an earlier report, the FCC has also been in hot water after it was revealed that the agency was only able to collect $6,000 out of the $200 million in fines it issued against companies and businesses who robocalls. In recent times, the FCC and its chief Ajit Pai have been repeatedly called out for their inability to end the robocall epidemic that has been terrorizing American households. In response, many telecom companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have vowed to release features that would potentially block robocallers and auto-dialed calls.

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