Sprint pushes text messaging vendors to resolve Haitian donation dispute

Sprint Nextel has requested its text messaging aggregator, OpenMarket, continue to "seek a means of resolving a dispute" that involves a Haitian earthquake text messaging campaign headed by Catholic Relief Services and managed by mobile messaging company Mobile Commons. Sprint's letter to OpenMarket stands as the latest action in a convoluted public relations battle between Sprint and public interest groups Public Knowledge and Free Press.

In its letter, which the carrier forwarded to the FCC, Sprint requested that OpenMarket "make an additional effort to contact Mobile Commons and provide them with an opportunity to comply with their obligations." Sprint also said it is "willing to have counsel participate in any conversation with Mobile Commons."

"Sprint understands that late in March 2010 OpenMarket reached out to Mobile Commons in an effort to bring Mobile Commons into compliance with respect to campaigns run on the 30644 short code. However, OpenMarket advised Sprint that Mobile Commons has not taken action to bring these campaigns into compliance to date. Sprint supports fully the need to protect consumers from non-compliant campaigns; nevertheless, Sprint believes that it is appropriate to make an additional effort to provide Mobile Commons the opportunity to bring usage of its leased short codes into compliance."

Sprint contends messaging vendors such as Mobile Commons wishing to implement charitable short code giving campaigns on Sprint's network "certify that these charitable campaigns are being conducted by legitimate 501(c)(3) organizations and provide Sprint with sufficient information to respond to customer inquiries."

A New York Times article on the topic last month sparked the dust-up; Public Knowledge and Free Press issued a fiery press release shortly after the article claiming Sprint planned to shut down the text messaging campaign appeared and used the issue to renew calls for government oversight of text messaging campaigns. Sprint countered that it didn't plan to shut down the campaign, and that the situation centered on paperwork needed from Mobile Commons. Mobile Commons, however, claims that it did file the needed paperwork with Sprint and then received a message back stating that Mobile Commons' campaign had been rejected.

"We're pleased that Sprint is intervening to help resolve the situation," said Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky. "At the same time, Sprint's intervention points out yet again the arbitrary nature of the short code business. If not for the publicity the Haiti story generated, much like the NARAL situation a couple of years ago, chances are this communications would not have taken place and the short code would have already been disconnected. It is for that reason we and others filed a petition, now pending at the FCC, to institute some formal, legal rules to apply to text messaging, replacing the governing principle of the whim of the carriers."

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