Friday, October 14, 2011

It's Official: Cellular Carriers Have Gone Nuts

Imagine that everywhere your phone number was available to the public - printed ads, business cards, your web pages, bus bench advertising, TV ads, even on the front door of your store - you had to include the following message just below the number:
Calling this phone number might incur a charge. In fact, it might incur a long distance charge if you're not in the same area code, and even if it's a toll-free call, if you call from your cell phone minutes will still be deducted from your plan.
Now imagine that if you didn't have that statement below your number every time it appeared in public that the phone company could send you a notice saying:
Your phone number is not in compliance with our regulations.  Figure out where it's in violation, fix it and tell us how you fixed it within 48 hours or we're going to cut off all access to your phone number.
Finally, imagine that this applies to not only the places where you put your phone number after you've been informed of this requirement but to every single place that your phone number has ever appeared in the past.  And if you don't go back and fix every one of those instances, the threat of a cut-off still applies.  Pull those old brochures off the rack, rip up those old Yellow Pages ads, collect every promotional coffee cup, keychain and umbrella you've ever given to a customer. 

Crazy, right? Except for one thing.  Substitute the words "text messaging short code" (which is essentially an abbreviated phone number) and that requirement, and its consequent negative actions, has been implemented for real.  Right now.

Yes, it's now official - the cellular carriers have gone nuts.  First they attempted to impose a Soviet-era censorship on the content that could be sent in text messages.  Then they impose arbitrary and capricious regulations, ostensibly to protect consumers - conveniently ignoring of course, that there hasn't been a single consumer legal action about any of this - and now they are threatening to shut off access to their networks without justification.

The carriers' industry representative - the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) has recently taken over the function of "auditing" for violations of the short code compliance regulations.  Behind the scenes, for the past 72 hours, businesses of all sizes have essentially stopped selling, helping customers, improving their systems and growing their businesses to attend to the demands of these auditors who are unaccountable to anyone other than the carriers they represent.

In today's world of trying to grow businesses and create jobs is this the right approach?  We think not.   

We've said before that text messaging operators function in a world where the rules are often unwritten, unclear and, to be diplomatic, bizarrely byzantine.  Carriers have gone over the line, though, with this draconian approach to compliance with rules for which there is no foundation or justification.

If CTIA, representing the cellular carriers, can get away with this, what's next?  Will they actually decide to impose censorship on the phone calls you're making?  Or will they require that everywhere your phone number appears a lengthy legal statement follows it? 

A free market environment helps business grow by removing encumbrances and allowing companies to thrive based on fair competition and response to consumer demand.  The cellular carriers are distorting this environment by injecting rules and regulations that sap the innovation and energy from one of the country's limited growth markets.  It's time to tell them to stop.  Read THIS PETITION and sign it.

If you don't, restrictions on your phone number might be next.

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