Tue, February 07, 2023

Trump clashes with AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile over Texting

Verizon headquarters

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is reportedly fighting cell phone companies amid the right to send Americans unsolicited texts. 

According to reports, the campaign’s lawyers are in active talks with major phone carriers, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. This came after a third-party screening tool blocked Trump’s texts in early July. 

The campaign says that screening the texts amounts to suppressing political speech. However, carriers fear that allowing them will result in fines for violating anti-spam rules.

The 2020 United States presidential election has brought a wave of text messages from across the political spectrum. This is particularly true with the pandemic limiting in-person outreach. 

Back in February, the news reported that Americans, particularly in early nominating and battleground states, were already receiving millions of texts. They were sent by Democratic and Republican political campaigns with fundraising messages and calls to action. Those texts were regularly lighting up their smartphone screens.

Many users didn’t opt into these missives. It’s not clear whether they violate federal laws meant to curb unwanted texts.

Steeper fines for AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile 

 The front windows of a Verizon store.

The Trump administration has imposed steeper fines for spammy and illegal robocalls. This has reportedly put carriers on edge despite Trump’s campaign contending it’s not illegally automating texts.

Some news reported in January that President Trump has signed a law on increasing these fines. The law also required phone service providers to begin authenticating calls across networks.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act) was signed after Congress approved the landmark bill. This bill was approved on December 19, 2019, to give the federal government new abilities to go after illegal robocallers. 

Such fines can reach $10,000 per call. The law also required major carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, to use the new STIR/SHAKEN technology. This was to help customers know if robocallers are targeting them with a spoofed number.

A campaign spokesperson said that it stands by its programs. Any effort by carriers to restrict the campaign from contacting its supporters is a suppression of political speech, plain and simple.

CTIA wireless industry group expects all senders to include clear opt-out language and gain prior consent before sending a text. That is whether they are airlines, schools, banks, or campaigns. 

These simple steps help protect consumers from spam. Furthermore, they help maintain text messaging as a trusted medium for everyone.

A Standoff Between President Trump and the Major Carriers

Reports describe a “standoff” between Trump and carriers, mediated at one point by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner apparently complained to the CEOs of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile about the block.

Political operatives have generally been pushing for more freedom to make calls and send texts. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled against the American Association of Political Consultants.

It has upheld a federal ban on robocalls to cell phones from 1991. It also struck down a provision that exempted government-debt collectors.

The association argued that robocalling bans violated the First Amendment. But Trump’s campaign has drawn particular criticism, as they’ve been aggressively sending mass texts, including multiple lawsuits.

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