The FCC this week voted to classify SMS and MMS as “information services,” denying requests from Twilio and others to regulate text messaging more strictly under the classification of “telecommunications services.”
Twilio, a company that sends texts for other companies, had petitioned the FCC in 2015 requesting the classification under Title II.
The 3-1 vote removes regulatory uncertainty and gives wireless providers the greenlight to continue efforts to prevent unwanted spam text messages from inundating consumers, according to proponents of the decision. Opponents, including dissenting Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, contend that the classification does not provide new abilities to stop robotexts, but rather gives carriers the right to block text messages and censor content.
“The FCC shouldn’t make it easier for spammers and scammers to bombard consumers with unwanted texts. And we shouldn’t allow unwanted messages to plague wireless messaging services in the same way that unwanted robocalls flood voice services,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “But that’s precisely what would happen if we were to classify text messaging services as telecommunications services and subject them to common-carrier regulation under Title II, as mass-texting companies and others have asked us to do.”
He pointed to the fact that only 3 percent of SMS messages are spam as proof that wireless providers have been successful at applying filters, blocking robotexts, and using anti-spoofing measures, among other efforts.
Deeming text messaging as a telecommunications service would “open the floodgates to spam texts,” Pai said.
In her dissenting statement Rosenworcel said the agency is twisting the law, “to reach the conclusion that you no longer have the final say on where your text messages go and what they say. That means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very content of your messages.”
The wireless industry, unsurprisingly, was pleased with the recent FCC vote.
CTIA’s SVP for Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said in a statement, “We commend Chairman Pai and the FCC for protecting consumers from an avalanche of messaging spam and allowing them to continue to benefit from a flourishing and competitive messaging ecosystem.”
Critics, including public interest group Public Knowledge, decried the decision.
“No one should mistake today’s action as an effort to help consumers limit spam and robotexts. There is a reason why carriers are applauding while more than 20 consumer protection advocates — along with 10 Senators — have cried foul,” said Harold Feld, SVP at Public Knowledge, in a statement. “This decision does nothing to curb spam, and is not needed to curb spam. It is simply the latest example of Chairman Pai’s radical agenda that puts companies ahead of consumers. We urge members of Congress to overturn this decision and ensure that wireless carriers cannot block or censor personal text messages.”