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FCC Bans Wireless Spam

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved rules Wednesday to prohibit marketers from sending unsolicited messages to wireless phones and other devices without the express consent of a consumer.

The new opt-in rules implement the wireless provisions of the Can Spam Act passed by Congress late last year. The exceptions to the rules include transactional messages between a company and a customer and situations where an individual chooses to forward messages to a cell phone.

To implement the plan, the FCC will require commercial mobile radio services (CMRS) such as Sprint or Verizon Wireless to supply the agency with the names of the Internet domains on which they offer service. No individual or subscriber will be collected or used in the list.

The list will be publicly available for marketers to determine which domain addresses are aimed at mobile services. The rules ban sending any commercial messages to addresses that contain domain names that have been listed for at least 30 days, or at any time prior to 30 days, if the sender otherwise knows the message is directed to a wireless device.

FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the rules strike a balance between protecting consumers from unwanted messages while minimizing the burdens on senders of such messages.

"By prohibiting all commercial messages to wireless phones and PDAs absent affirmative consent from the consumer, Americans can now use their wireless devices freely, without being bothered by unwanted and annoying messages," Powell said. "Further, the creation of a domain registry of wireless e-mail addresses makes sender compliance easy and inexpensive."

By contrast, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said in June it was opposed to creating a federal do-not-spam registry because of security issues.

According to the FCC, a wireless domain registry is far more workable since it will list only domain names, not individual addresses. The FCC also said the list makes it easier to obtain authorizations from those mobile subscribers who want to receive messages from specific senders. Under the rules, authorization to receive commercial text messages may be given orally, in paper or electronically.

"I'm glad we're taking steps to give consumers the power to stop wireless spam," Commissioner Michael Copps said. "My only hesitation is our decision to allow opt-in approvals that are not in writing. Oral approvals are harder to verify and may pose problems for us in the future."