By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc , the second-largest U.S. wireless carrier, will join all other large phone companies in accepting political donations by text - and will do so at much lower rates, a company spokesman said on Friday.

The carrier that services the most Apple iPhones in the country has been the last large holdout from offering the text-to-donate fundraising program, which was launched for the first time in U.S. history by President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney last month.

"We plan to implement this service as soon as possible," AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said on Friday.

The program, as it was originally approved, treated political giving the same way as other non-charitable transactions, such as purchases of ring tones, meaning that carriers and aggregators processing the payment were to take a cut that typically ranges from 30 percent to 50 percent of the donated amount.

AT&T had sought to set up a special offer with fee rates that are "substantially less" than regular commercial rates and asked the Federal Election Commission to approve the plan - which the FEC did on Thursday.

"Our customers will now be able to make political donations via text message and the political candidate or committee will receive more of each dollar donated, just as our customers expect," Balmoris said.

Carriers and aggregators do not disclose the rates of fees they charge, but industry sources have indicated that the new rates could mean single-digit percentage charges for text donations, more in line with rates charged by credit card companies for processing online donations.

Text donations are already available to subscribers of Verizon Wireless , Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile USA, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG , among others.

Representatives of Verizon, the largest carrier, and Sprint said they were reviewing the FEC's ruling on Friday and had no immediate decision on when or whether to lower their rates. T-Mobile representatives did not immediately respond.

Thanks to their small size and spontaneity, campaign finance reform advocates and fundraisers have touted text donations as a way to empower small donors in the era of six-figure donations to unlimited-spending outside groups fueling what is likely to be the most expensive U.S. election ever.

With the experience of successful use of texts in raising money for disaster relief and other charity causes - for which carriers do not charge fees - texted political donations could be a lucrative resource in the run-up to the November 6 election.

Obama's campaign has been asking donors to text GIVE to its short donation phone number of 62262 ("OBAMA") on rally signs and TV ads and promoted it at the Democratic National Convention in early September. The Romney campaign, which joined the program a week after Obama, also promotes its number 37377.

Text donations can be made anonymously but have to be capped at $50 per month and $200 in total for one candidate or campaign.

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker)

Earlier on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Contact Your Phone

    <a href=",2817,2363526,00.asp"target="_blank">PCMag</a> recommends using another phone to text your lost phone with a message offering a reward for the device, and you can always try calling it as well. If you don't have a phone handy, you can use a service like Skype, Google Voice or <a href=""target="_blank"></a> to ping your phone. It can't hurt -- someone may have found your phone or maybe you'll find hear it ringing between the couch cushions.

  • Call Your Carrier

    After you've called or texted your phone, retraced your steps, and shed a few tears in frustration over losing your precious device, you'll want to call your cellphone carrier immediately and tell them your phone has been lost or stolen. Ask them to suspend service (i.e. disable messaging and calls) on the device, because thieves could rack up thousands of dollars in international calls or app purchases. AT&T will even let you do this from your <a href=""target="_blank">account on the Web</a>.

  • Password Protect Your Phone

    With all the messages, years of email, contacts, social networking accounts and other personal data stored on today's smartphones, we can't recommend password protecting your phone enough. Yes, it's a momentary frustration that requires you tap a few numbers every time you check your phone, but the extra security and peace of mind is worth the effort. While a thief could still wipe a password-protected device and there's always the possibility you just lost the phone for good, the alternative (going password-free) leaves not only your cellphone account but your bank, social networking, and e-mail accounts completely open. If your phone <em>was</em> stolen and you haven't locked it down, immediately change the passwords to your online accounts and alert any banks or services that you enabled on the phone.

  • Use Remote Protection Apps

    Many remote security apps are now available for modern smartphones, and they offer everything from near real-time location tracking (often showing your phone's location on a map via a Web interface) and the ability to remote wipe your phone in case of theft to remote photo and data backup. There are many free options, and they take just a few minutes to install and set up. Your corporate BlackBerry can probably be wiped and tracked by your company's IT admins, and consumers can grab the free BlackBerry Protect from <a href=""target="_blank">BlackBerry App World</a> for remote tracking and wiping. iPhone users should download the free '<a href=""target="_blank">Find My iPhone</a>' app Android users can grab the free <a href=""target="_blank">Prey</a> app. Similarly, other third party solutions like <a href=""target="_blank">Mobile Defense</a>, <a href=""target="_blank">Lookout</a> can help secure your device.

  • Save Your Phone's Unique ID

    Take a note of your phone's ESN, IMEI or MEID number (often found behind the battery or on the back of the iPhone near the FCC ID). This number will come in handy when reporting a lost or stolen phone to the police or to your cellphone provider.

  • Schedule Regular Backups

    It sounds obvious, but regularly back up your device to your computer to ensure that you don't lose essentials documents, purchases, apps and photos that are stored only on your phone. Even if you're forced to wipe your cellphone or if it's lost for good, you can often restore a factory fresh replacement to the last backup you've got, complete with apps, settings and documents. Depending on how much you use your phone, we recommend backing up between once a month and once a week.