House panel OKs outlawing nuisance texts

2013-02-08T00:00:00Z 2013-02-08T12:32:10Z House panel OKs outlawing nuisance textsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
February 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - State lawmakers figure it's annoying enough to get an unwanted text message, but having to pay for it only adds insult to injury.

So the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure voted unanimously Thursday to make it illegal for companies to use automated systems to send text messages trying to sell goods or services. Individual violators could be fined $750, while the penalty for a company can reach $10,000.

And to be sure companies don't look for a loophole, the same prohibition also applies texts disguised as a survey, if the real aim ultimately is to get people to buy something.

Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said these messages come in all forms.

"A couple of days ago I got I got a text: Find all the hot babes in Phoenix," he told members of the committee, which he chairs.

Arizona law already precludes companies from making "robocalls" to get people to buy anything.

And the Federal Communications Commission maintains a "do not call" list that allows individuals to register land-line and cellphone numbers to make them off-limits to most unwanted calls. There are exceptions, though, for political calls and polling.

Stevens said his legislation falls into the same category.

The measure is drawing questions from several cellphone companies.

Jerry Fuentes, president of AT&T for Arizona and New Mexico, said his company routinely sends text messages to its own customers who have been to one of its offices.

"For example, I'm in a store and I buy a service or product," he told lawmakers.

"We'll send a text message and ask them about their experience," Fuentes said, asking them things like if they got all their questions answered. "And we get the feedback from that so we can serve them better."

But Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the bottom line is the message is unsolicited, as opposed to a customer having asked for such notifications.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said beyond the annoyance is the fact some customers have not purchased a cellphone plan that includes a fixed number of text messages. The result, he said, is each time one of those unwanted texts comes in, the customer's bill goes up by a quarter.

Lobbyists John Mangum, representing T-Mobile, told lawmakers if they want to make automated texts illegal, there needs to be an exception for situations in which a customer has requested such notifications.

He noted new federal rules, set to take effect in October, will require prior express written consent to deliver an auto-dialed marketing call or text message to a cellphone. That rule would not apply to things like flight updates, debt collection calls, surveys or bank account fraud alerts.

The legislation now goes to the full House.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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