Advocacy Groups Push FCC to Regulate Texting

Published May 31, 2016

Advocacy groups have begun a push to persuade the Federal Communications Commission to force rules amounting to network neutrality on providers of text messaging services. In August, Public Knowledge, a Washington, DC-based public policy group, asked the FCC to hold text messaging to the same nondiscrimination laws as telephone communication. The group was working on behalf of nonprofit groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Center for Community Change.

In a joint letter to the FCC this past March, Public Knowledge and Free Press asserted mobile carriers Sprint and Verizon, among others, may be blocking text messages from groups such as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) and Catholic Relief Services. According to the letter,”[M]obile carriers currently can and do discriminate in who they allow to send messages two [sic] and receive messages from their customers.”

The March letter was sent after unsolicited text messages seeking donations for Haitian earthquake relief allegedly were blocked by Sprint. Also at issue is the speed of wireless text messaging delivery, which Public Knowledge and Free Press state is kept intentionally slower than wired message services.

First Amendment Concerns

“This actually deals with complaints by nonprofits about texting networks not being forced by the FCC to apply nondiscrimination rules—meaning ‘net neutrality’,” said Nick Dranias, director of the Goldwater Institute’s Center for Constitutional Government.

“Forcing texting networks to host all text messages on terms dictated by the FCC, whether those terms are ‘nondiscrimination’ or anything else, is the [equivalent] of the government forcing a book publisher to publish all manuscripts submitted to it on the same terms,” Dranias continued. “This violates the First Amendment because it amounts to the government dictating the terms by which people communicate, which abridges freedom of speech.”

In addition to raising First Amendment concerns, the proposed FCC regulations would directly affect business and nonprofit groups, according to Evan Peterson, communications director for the Sam Adams Institute in Chicago.

“The general concept of the FCC imposing conditions on texting sounds a little intrusive on the rights of businesses to communicate with consumers and potentially on basic free speech,” said Peterson.

Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.