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T-Mobile sued for censoring weed service

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T-Mobile USA is being sued for cutting off a message service offering guidance to those seeking legal access to cannabis, despite the service purging itself of references to the evil weed.

The company concerned, EZ Texting, is now taking T-Mobile to court on the grounds that a network operator isn't allowed to make moral judgments on the content it carries. Even if it were, EZ Texting removed all traces of marijuana from its system before T-Mobile brought in the ban that's now destroying its business.

EZ Texting is a small company that manages text messaging for companies wanting to stay in touch with their customers. End users send a text containing a request keyword to a common short code ("313131" in the case of EZ Texting), EZ Texting then responds with a message provided by the company paying for the service.

For the last year or so one of those companies was WeedMaps - providing locations of places where those with a prescription for marijuana (legal in California and a few other states) can pick up a bag.

WeedMaps is used by those poor souls for whom marijuana can provide pain relief, but a quick look at the WeedMaps forum shows that some are clearly enjoying different kind of relief.

Which is probably why T-Mobile took such offence at the service, once it had noticed. EZ Texting, whose connectivity goes through a chain of third parties (4INFO and Open Market) before getting to the carriers, heard on September 9 that T-Mobile had problems with the weed-provisioning service so (in fear) told WeedMaps it would have to find someone else to deliver its messages.

But that wasn't enough for T-Mobile which (according to the filing - pdf) started blocking all EZ Texting's messages on 10 September:

"In other words, even when EZ Texting acceded to T-Mobiles (unreasonable and unlawful) demand simply to prevent further damage to EZ Texting's entire business, EZ Texting's short code was still blocked by T-Mobile."

Being unable to deliver messages to T-Mobile customers obviously makes EZ Texting's business unsustainable, so in addition to immediate reconnection the company is demanding $75,000 in damages (times three, 'cos T-Mobile knows what it's doing).

According to the filing T-Mobile has told EZ Texting to set up a new relationship with the various third parties, but the company reckons that would take six months, during which its customer base would disappear.

Some are comparing this case to the debate over Net Neutrality, though it's not really the same debate.

American phone companies already have a legal obligation to connect phone calls (and deliver text messages) in a non-discriminatory fashion - a law of which Google Voice fell foul. We've asking T-Mobile USA how it justifies the block, but have yet to hear back.

The operator does appear to dislike companies that use a single short code to provide multiple services, but that's hardly a reason to block EZ Texting's traffic when many other companies operate in the same way; so it will be interesting to see what defence the operator mounts. ®

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