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FCC’s gift for consumers is no gift at all

by on07 December 2018

It turns out it was another sop to help telcos again

Earlier this week we wondered what had fallen into FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s cornflakes after it was announced that it was cracking down on annoying robocalls and automatic text messaging.

Could it be that the man who surrendered the internet to US telecoms monopolies might ae starting to take his consumer protection role seriously?

It turns out not really.

The FCC announced in November that it plans formally to classify text messaging, currently of indeterminate regulatory status, in the same category as high-speed Internet. Proponents claim the change will help wireless carriers stop unwanted communications from flooding customers’ cellphones. But as critics point out, moving text messaging to a regulation-light realm could also allow companies arbitrarily to block even legitimate communications.

The FCC moves classified texting under the same category as phone calls which should deter robot-spammers.

However, the FCC has made clear in previous rulings that carriers already have the ability to implement blocking technology that keeps out calls consumers do not want to receive — and that the same rules apply to texts.

The FCC’s proposal would offer telcos even greater freedom, to even censor content that is not proven spam at their whim rather than at the consumer’s will.

That is a bad idea because the monopolistic telcos have a habit of acting politically. Verizon in 2007 banned abortion-rights group Naral from contacting subscribers citing its authority to block “controversial or unsavoury” communications. This would have been OK if the messages had been spam, but they were emails to subscribers who consented to receive the texts.

Companies may also have economic incentives to deny senders access. If any upstart telco did try to challenge the supremacy of the US telco they would be blacklisted from emailing that telco’s subscriber base.

It would not have taken much for the FCC to be more specific in its wording to prevent the telco’s censoring but it seems the FCC believes that an unenforceable industry agreement not to do that will be enough.


Last modified on 07 December 2018
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