Wireless Carriers Now Have the Legal Right to Block, Censor Text Messages

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The Federal Communications Commission has approved controversial new rules that will give carriers more power over your text messages.

On Wednesday, the FCC voted 3-1 along party lines to classify text messages as an information service instead of a telecommunications service, Reuters reported.

The FCC’s Republican leaders, including Chairman Ajit Pai, have argued that the move will allow carriers to curb spam and robo-texts without fear of breaking any regulations. Pai said that the Commission “should not make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts.”

The ultimate goal, as Pai puts it, is to give carriers more power to “continue taking action against unwanted text messages.” The FCC argued that the move will only preserve the status quo.

But the decision has drawn criticism from the FCC’s lone Democratic commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel, as well as from consumer advocacy groups.

“You no longer have the final say on where your text messages go and what they said,” Rosenworcel said of the vote. “That means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very context of your messages.”

Rosenworcel compared the move to the FCC’s decision last year to end net neutrality protections, saying it it’s part of a “quest to dismantle the regulatory framework that protects Americans.”

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Advocacy group Public Knowledge also said that carriers could block text fundraising, as well as political or marketing campaigns that they find controversial. Last week, several U.S. senators said the move could “stifle free speech,” Reuters reported.

Previously, the FCC’s classification of text messages left them in a legal gray area. By classifying them as an information service, carriers now have a lot more power to control or even block messages.

On the other hand, the FCC said that the decision only affects bulk messages — and not individual texts or blocked senders. And it’s worth noting that the new rules only apply to standard SMS and MMS messages.

The FCC is also likely to implement similar rules on next-generation texting standards like RCS, allowing carriers to more stringently control their content in the future.


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