In a mini-reprise of the Title II/Title I net neutrality debate, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is leading a group of nine high-profile Democratic senators asking the FCC to classify text messages as a telecommunications service (title II) rather than an information service (Title I).
The FCC plans to vote Dec. 12 on a declaratory ruling that wireless text messages (SMS and MMS) are information services, not telecom services, so that service providers can continue to protect their customers from spam and scams, said senior FCC officials in announcing the agenda for the meeting.
The senators said in a letter to FCC chair Ajit Pai Friday (Dec. 7) that giving carriers that power would permit them to block text messages to favor either their own texting services or to stifle free speech, somewhat analogous to the harms Markey and others envisioned for the Restoring Internet Freedom order's reclassification of internet access as Title I and the elimination of prohibitions on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.
Markey said there have already been instances of carriers censoring "controversial or unsavory" texts or forcing texters to pay more to reach their audience.
“In the 21st century, text messaging is as essential as telephone service, facilitating trillions of messages between senders and receivers each year – from businesses and customers, from organizations and supporters, from parents and teachers, and from doctors and patients,” the senators wrote to Pai. “Should text messaging be classified as an information service, telephone carriers would be free to block any text message they wish. We urge you to right this wrong and classify text messaging as a telecommunications service, affording this vital means of communications protections that promote innovation and support freedom of speech.”
Also joining the letter were Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tina Smith (Minn.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.).
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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