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Common Short Codes Like 900/976 Numbers? Huh?

Nokia SMSThe CTIA is baffling me again. This time it is with their non-sequitur response to the whole issue of Common Short Codes, which the folks at Public Knowledge are petitioning the FCC to make the act of choosing to not allow a particular short code on their network illegal.

If I follow the CTIA’s reasoning, I think they are trying to say that short codes are like 1-900 or 976-xxxx numbers in the U.S. with a high potential for fraud and abuse. Only when the phone carriers were allowed to block access to 900 and 976 numbers did the fraud and abuse problems associated with these numbers go away.

While I’m all for reducing fraud, I think this is a bogus reason. I took a look at the rules for 900 numbers as per the Federal Trade Commission, and they are fairly straightforward. There are rules about the ads for these numbers, which make it fairly clear they have to disclose the possible costs of the call and some other pertinent facts. There are also rules about when you call the 900 number:

When you dial a 900 number that costs more than $2, you should hear an introductory message or “preamble.” You can’t be charged for this message. It must briefly describe the service, the name of the company providing the service, and the cost of the call. It also must state that anyone under age 18 needs parental permission to complete the call. Once this information is provided, you must be given three seconds to hang up without incurring a charge.

So if I were to translate this rule for, say, a premium common short code, I might write the rule like this:

When you send a text message to a common short code with a charge above and beyond the usual and customary fee your operator charges, the short code operator must respond with a text message that describes the services you are about to receive, the cost of said services, and require a confirmation text message to be sent confirming acceptance to the terms. If there is no response to this confirmation message, the short code operator should not charge the specified fee.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m sure one could drive a Mack truck through the above statement, but you get the idea.

Furthermore, the carriers themselves should be able to provide to customers the ability to disable all premium SMS services at a particular customer’s request, much like you can request 900 number blocking on your landline. Should carriers get the right to unilaterally decide to block short codes they find objectionable? I don’t think so.


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