While wireless operators generally and wholeheartedly support the FCC’s decision to classify SMS and MMS as “information services” rather than “telecommunications services” or “commercial mobile services,” Verizon is urging the commission to go a step further and include Rich Communication Services (RCS) as well.
In a draft of the declaratory ruling (PDF) that the commission will consider at its Dec. 12 meeting, the FCC acknowledged that RCS is the next-generation SMS and is an IP-based asynchronous messaging protocol. It allows users to, among other things, use mobile banking services, share high-resolution photos and files, track locations and interact with chatbots. But given the lack of discussion of RCS in the record, it’s not addressing its classification in Wednesday’s ruling, which is controversial for other reasons.
Verizon, which is in the midst of introducing RCS to more phones beyond the Pixel 3 and 3 XL, told the commission in a Dec. 6 filing in the docket that the technical characteristics of RCS are similar to those of SMS and MMS. In fact, RCS will offer consumers even more information-processing capabilities. “A service with even more powerful information processing characteristics than SMS and MMS, and that represents the ‘next generation’ of SMS/MMS, falls within the same regulatory classification,” for the same reasons the FCC spelled out in its draft declaratory ruling for SMS and MMS, Verizon said.
Verizon isn’t the only one advocating for such a change. A company called Zipwhip, which lays claim to building the routing infrastructure that allows for cross-carrier high-volume business texting and serves as the provider of routing for millions of business customers, told the commission (PDF) that RCS supports the same features of SMS and MMS that the draft declaratory ruling concludes render them information services. RCS also adds enhanced features such as read receipts, group messaging features, animations and other capabilities, Zipwhip noted.
“For the same reasons that SMS and MMS are information services, RCS also is an information service,” Zipwhip wrote, adding that broadening the ruling to include RCS would avoid the potentially decadelong delay and uncertainty that SMS and MMS messaging had to endure.
Under a classification of “information service,” text messages will be regulated more lightly than if they were designated a “telecommunications service.” Public Knowledge and Twilio had asked the commission years ago to declare SMS and MMS as telecommunications services or commercial mobile services or the equivalent.
Opponents (PDF) of the commission’s proposed declaratory ruling say, among other things, that they fear permitting carriers to block messages without any oversight will result in censoring time-critical speech, hamper efforts to organize political engagement and severely restrict the ability of civil rights organizations, religious affiliations and other noncommercial entities to use texting platforms to their full capability. They noted that the proceeding began after Verizon blocked NARAL from using a short code for political action messages in 2007; Verizon quickly reversed course on that.