T-Mobile Sued for Blocking Medical Marijuana Text Messages

September 21, 2010 – T-Mobile was sued last week for allegedly blocking text messages from a medical marijuana Web site, in a case that highlights a debate over whether federal regulators should apply rules against blocking phone-line content to text messages.

In its suit, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, text marketing firm EZ Texting said T-Mobile blocked its short code 313131 for Web site WeedMaps.com. The site connects medical marijuana users, and EZ Texting had been sending alerts to customers looking for the location of doctors, cooperatives and centers that distribute marijuana for medical purposes.

EZ Texting said that by blocking WeedMaps, T-Mobile has overstepped its role as a communications carrier and has impeded the speech rights of cellphone users.

“We were told that T-Mobile didn’t approve of the Web site, which is totally legal,” said Shane Neman, chief executive of EZ Texting. “But we feel this is illegal blocking and that consumers have the right to send and receive any text message of their choosing.”

The court denied EZ Texting’s motion for early relief. A hearing is set for Sept. 30, according to EZ Texting.

A spokesman for T-Mobile didn’t respond directly to questions about blocking the texts from WeedMaps. The company sent the following statement by e-mail:

“We are pleased that the court denied EZ Texting’s motion for early relief, which would have required T-Mobile to reinstate the shortcode. We believe the claims in the lawsuit are meritless.”

Public Knowledge, a media reform advocacy group, has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to look at text messages as a communications medium, like phone calls. Phone lines are subject to common carrier rules that prevent a service provider from blocking calls. The public interest group’s petition, filed in 2007, hasn’t been taken up by the agency. Consumers sent 152 billion text messages last year, compared with 9 billion in 2005.

Other carriers have received similar criticism. In 2007, Verizon Wireless allegedly blocked texts by the abortion rights group NARAL. Sprint Nextel was criticized this year for allegedly blocking some text messages that automatically connected to call centers for donations to Catholic Charities for Haiti earthquake relief.

“This is about a telecommunications firm having too much control,” said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge. “And the issue is that there is no legal authority to stop that or step in when a carrier decides to block a text.” Source.

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