A mobile-marketing company claimed Friday it would go out of business unless a federal judge orders T-Mobile to stop blocking its text-messaging service, the first case testing whether wireless providers can block text messages they don’t like.
EZ Texting claims T-Mobile blocked the company from sending text messages for all of its clients after learning that legalmarijuanadispensary.com, an EZ Texting client, was using its service to send texts about legal medical marijuana dispensaries in California. “T-Mobile subjectively did not approve of one of the thousands of lawful businesses and non-profits served by EZ Texting,” according to New York federal lawsuit.
The suit against T-Mobile, which controls about 15 percent of the U.S. mobile market, comes as the company just announced it was raising its texting prices, which some claim is an abuse of its market share. And the case comes amid a fierce debate surrounding net neutrality, with net giant Google claiming that wireless carriers should not be bound by the same rules as wireline carriers.
Even the New York-based texting service acknowledges that the case raises novel issues. “At the very least, EZ Texting has raised serious questions about the legal ability of a wireless service provider, T-Mobile, to block its customers from exchanging text messages with EZ Texting’s customers,” according to the suit.
A similar text-messaging flap occurred in 2007, but ended without litigation, when Verizon reversed itself and allowed an abortion-rights group to send text messages to its supporters.
T-Mobile, of Bellevue, Washington, said in a statement: “We believe the claims in the lawsuit are meritless.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission has had pending before it, since 2007, a petition from Public Knowledge demanding it announce clear rules that wireless carriers, like their wireline brethren, cannot ban legal content it does not support.
“The FCC should put a fast end to this blocking by issuing the ruling we asked them for three years ago. EZ Texting and other companies should be able to focus on growing their business rather than filing lawsuits to prevent blocking,” Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a blog post.
EZ Texting offers a short code service, which works like this: A church could send its schedule to a cell phone user who texted “CHURCH” to 313131. Mobile phone users only receive text messages from EZ Texting’s customers upon request. Each of its clients gets their own special word. A party supplier might get “PARTY.”
By David Kravets September 17, 2010
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