Mobile marketer EZ Texting has filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile USA, after the mobile carrier began blocking its subscribers from exchanging text messages with EZ Texting customers.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accuses T-Mobile of blocking EZ's text messages because the New York mobile marketer does business with WeedMaps.com, a website that points users to legal medical marijuana dispensaries in California.
T-Mobile began blocking EZ Texting's SMS (Short Message Service) short code a week ago, said Shane Neman, EZ's CEO. EZ's SMS aggregator, which helps EZ connect to carrier networks, delivered the news that T-Mobile had started blocking the short code, he said.
"The fact is T-Mobile ... put my business in jeopardy without any warning, without any justification, and without any appeal," Neman said. "It's like the Wild West out there. You don't know what the rules are."
T-Mobile did not immediately respond to a request for comments on the lawsuit.
EZ learned from two SMS aggregators that an unnamed mobile carrier disapproved of WeedMaps.com's business a day before T-Mobile began blocking EZ's text messages, according to the lawsuit.
Even though other mobile carriers have not blocked EZ's text messages, T-Mobile's decision puts the company at a disadvantage in a competitive mobile marketing industry, Neman said. Companies wishing to use text messaging campaigns can find marketing firms with access to all major mobile carriers, he added.
In the lawsuit, EZ has asked the court to issue an injunction requiring T-Mobile to carry the marketer's short codes. The marketer is also seeking monetary damages.
The case shows the need for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to take action on a three-year-old petition asking the agency to prohibit mobile carriers from blocking text messages, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge. Public Knowledge, Consumers Union and other groups filed the petition after Verizon Wireless refused to accept texts on its network from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a group opposing restrictions on abortion.
Verizon reversed its decision within days, but other carriers have also blocked text messaging campaigns. Earlier this year, news reports said Sprint Nextel blocked a Catholic Relief Services campaign to help victims of an earthquake in Haiti, although Sprint denied the reports.
The EZ Texting 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," Sohn said in an e-mail. "EZ Texting and other companies should be able to focus on growing their business rather than filing lawsuits to prevent blocking."
While blocking text messages is a slightly different issue, some supporters of strong net neutrality rules have pointed to text-messaging cases as a reason for the FCC or the U.S. Congress to prohibit broadband and mobile carriers from selectively blocking Web traffic.
The FCC should require mobile carriers to treat text messages the same way they treat voice calls -- by letting all messages go through, Neman said.
"Consumers have the right to send and receive text messages with whoever they want," Neman said. "If T-Mobile starts taking a stance on blocking lawful content on medical marijuana, does this mean they're going to take a stance on other issues? What about gay marriage? Maybe they're against the Tea Party. Where does it end?"
EZ Texting has about 10,000 customers, including Saddleback Church, a California megachurch led by Rick Warren. Mobile-device users wishing to receive marketing campaigns from EZ partners must opt in to get text messages, according to EZ's website.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.