See update below
T-Mobile is being sued for allegedly blocking EZ Texting, a text messaging service, from its network because T-Mobile "did not approve" of an EZ Texting client that offered information via SMS on the location of medical marijuana dispensaries.
CNET explains the lawsuit:
EZ Texting says that last week, T-Mobile cut off access to its network after learning of an EZ client of which T-Mobile "did not approve": legalmarijuanadispensary.com, aka WeedMaps, which describes itself as "a community where medical marijuana patients connect with other patients in their geographic region to freely discuss and review local cannabis co-operatives, dispensaries, medical doctors, and delivery services."
The suit says T-Mobile pulled the plug even after EZ Texting had informed the carrier that it had stopped providing its service to WeedMaps for fear of being shut out (even though, the suit says, WeedMaps caters to people in states where medical marijuana is legal and is thus itself a legal enterprise).
The Register observes that while "WeedMaps is used by those poor souls for whom marijuana can provide pain relief," a WeedMaps forum suggested that some users were "clearly enjoying different kind of relief." The Register speculates that this was "probably why" T-Mobile objected to the service.
"We were told that T-Mobile didn't approve of the Web site, which is totally legal," said EZ Texting chief Shane Neman said, according to the Washington Post. "But we feel this is illegal blocking and that consumers have the right to send and receive any text message of their choosing."
Neman told Daily Finance that T-Mobile's block has "put [his] business in jeopardy." T-Mobile countered in an email sent to the Washington Post that "the claims in the lawsuit are meritless"
Currently, phone companies are prohibited from blocking calls placed over their networks, but such laws do not yet apply to text messages. "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," explains the Washington Post. "The public interest group's petition, filed in 2007, hasn't been taken up by the agency."
T-Mobile is not the first to face this issue. Verizon Wireless, for example, came under fire in 2007 for allegedly blocking NARAL, a pro-choice group, from sending text messages on its network.
UPDATED: T-Mobile contacted The Huffington Post with the following statement regarding the lawsuit:
T-Mobile believes that the recent complaint filed by EZ Texting is without merit; and we are pleased that last Friday, September 17, 2010, the court rejected EZ Texting’s motion for early relief. Though T-Mobile doesn’t typically comment on pending litigation, we believe it is important to clear up some of the confusion generated by EZ Texting’s allegations. Each carrier has a process to ensure that content providers like EZ Texting follow the Mobile Marketing Association’s U.S. Consumer Best Practices Guidelines for Cross-Carrier Mobile Content Programs, as well as other regulations applicable to the mobile content business. When T-Mobile discovered that EZ Texting had not followed this process for WeedMaps – the text messaging service at issue in the lawsuit – we turned off the short code that EZ Texting was using for these services. The content of the WeedMaps service simply had nothing to do with T-Mobile’s decision.
EZ Texting's statement on the lawsuit is as follows:
T-Mobile’s statement is 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.
Ez Texting has reached out to T-Mobile to resolve this blocking amicably, but since the blocking started, T-Mobile has refused to communicate with Ez Texting. Unfortunately, then, Ez Texting can only vindicate its rights through the judicial process, which the court has agreed to hear on an accelerated basis. T-Mobile has been ordered to respond to Ez Texting’s complaint by Wednesday, September 22, 2010. Ez Texting will reply on Friday, September 24, 2010, and a hearing is set for Thursday, September 30, 2010.