T-Mobile goes to federal court to claim the right to block SMS content

Posted on September 24, 2010

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T-Mobile USA is petitioning a federal court to reject a lawsuit brought by mobile marketing firm EZ Texting, which claims the operator began blocking its short code services over EZ Texting’s partnership with WeedMaps.com, a web resource providing information on the location of legal medicinal marijuana dispensaries. T-Mobile USA alleges it dropped EZ Texting because the company violated contract guidelines–in a U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York filing, T-Mobile USA maintains it “has discretion to require pre-approval for any short-code marketing campaigns run on its network, and to enforce its guidelines by terminating programs for which a content provider failed to obtain the necessary approval.” T-Mobile adds such protocols are necessary “to protect the carrier and its customers from potentially illegal, fraudulent, or offensive marketing campaigns conducted on its network.”

According to the filing, T-Mobile USA approved EZ Texting’s application to use its 313131 short code in June 2009–while EZ Texting initially submitted the code as a promotional channel to alert subscribers about events at bars and clubs, the company soon began using the short code to deliver other unrelated messaging campaigns without notifying T-Mobile. “Prior approval is required for all short code messaging campaigns provisioned by T-Mobile, and by every other carrier that provides such services, as recommended by the industry trade group, Mobile Marketing Association,” the filing explains. “On that basis, T-Mobile unilaterally decided to terminate network access for the 313131 short code due to EZ Texting’s violation of T-Mobile’s agreements and guidelines governing the short code provisioning program.”

T-Mobile USA adds that EZ Texting’s suggests its short code was blocked solely due to content is misleading. “But in fact, plaintiff cannot dispute that T-Mobile’s program guidelines require prior written approval for all new or modified messaging campaigns, and that it failed even to seek the required approval for its unauthorized ‘shadow campaign,'” the suit continues. “Furthermore, since the filing of this lawsuit, T-Mobile has learned that EZ Texting has been violating T-Mobile’s short code guidelines for some time by using the same 313131 short code for many other campaigns that have not been approved by T-Mobile and have nothing whatsoever to do with the text alert campaign for bars and nightclubs, as originally authorized.”

In a statement issued earlier this week, T-Mobile USA said the content of the WeedMaps service had “nothing to do” with its decision to block EZ Texting’s service. EZ Texting called the statement “inconsistent with the reasons that were communicated to EZ Texting when T-Mobile began its unlawful blocking. T-Mobile admits that it is blocking all text messages exchanged between its customers and EZ Texting’s customers. T-Mobile now claims that it is blocking EZ Texting because we didn’t follow some unidentified ‘process’ to T-Mobile’s private satisfaction. In any event, T-Mobile’s reason for blocking EZ Texting is irrelevant as T-Mobile has no right to block EZ Texting in the first place. One thing is for sure, however, T-Mobile has never stated that any of its customers have ever complained about text messages from EZ Texting. That’s because T-Mobile’s customers want to exchange text messages with EZ Texting’s customers. Consumers have a right to exchange text messages with whomever they like, just like any other type of call.”

Digital rights organization Public Knowledge–which in 2007 filed a still-open Federal Communications Commission petition calling for lawmakers to extend to texting the same kind of non-discrimination laws applied to voice communications–has said it will file a copy of the EZ Texting lawsuit with the FCC. “This case is yet another example of a totally arbitrary decision by a carrier to block text message calls between consumers and organizations they want to communicate with,” said Public Knowledge president and co-founder Gigi B. Sohn in a prepared statement. “EZ Texting and other companies should be able to focus on growing their business rather than filing lawsuits to prevent blocking.”

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Posted in: Mobile Marketing