New Bill Looks to Clamp Down on Mobile Spam

Mobile spam

Two senators have introduced a bill that seeks to clamp down on unsolicited text messages by updating the federal CAN-SPAM law to include mobile spam.

The m-SPAM Act, brought forward by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would expand the regulatory authority of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to intervene against the increasing use of text messages among spammers.

“Mobile spam invades both a consumer’s cell phone and monthly bill,” Snowe said in a statement. She also expressed concern that a rise in mobile spam could bring the same types of viruses and malware commonly transmitted through e-mail spam to the mobile arena.

“This significant and looming threat must be addressed in order to protect consumers and vital wireless services,” Snowe said.

Among other things, the m-SPAM Act would explicitly bar marketers from sending text messages to any mobile number in the national Do-Not-Call registry maintained by the FTC.

For several years, a bogus chain e-mail has circulated around the Web warning of a new commercial database of wireless numbers, and that telemarketers are poised to begin inundating mobile subscribers with solicitation calls. The FTC dispels the myth on its site, reminding consumers that marketers are prohibited from using direct-dialing machines to call cell phones under FCC regulations.

Consumers have been able to register cell phones in the Do-Not-Call registry since it opened in 2003. Nevertheless, text messaging has remained outside its purview. FTC spokesman Mitch Katz told that the registry was “designed solely to focus on telemarketing calls.”

The blueprints for the Do-Not-Call registry were laid out in 2002, when text messaging was still a fringe technology. Congress directed the FTC to revise the registry in 2007 so that numbers in the database would remain there permanently, but it didn’t take up the issue of text spam, which Snowe and Nelson worry is increasing at an alarming rate.

Citing a study by Ferris Research, the senators noted that mobile subscribers received more than 1.1 million spam text messages, a 38 percent increase from 2006.

“Spam e-mail is bad enough,” Nelson said. “Now, we are seeing a proliferation of unwanted text messages — and consumers are getting stuck paying.”

The Snowe-Nelson bill is similar to legislation introduced last month in the House by Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey. His bill is more limited in scope, and would only apply to the Do-Not-Call registry, whereas the Senate legislation hopes to effect a broader reform of the federal spam law.

A spokeswoman for Snowe told that the House and Senate bills were separate efforts. Both would require the FTC to update the Do-Not-Call registry within 180 days of being signed into law.

The Snowe-Nelson bill expands an existing congressional inquiry into anti-consumer text-messaging practices. Last year, Sen. Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the Antitrust Subcommittee, called on the four major wireless carriers to explain why text-message rates had doubled within a span of two years.

In a recent policy statement outlining the subcommittee’s agenda for the new legislative session, Kohl and Utah’s Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said they planned to continue their inquiry into the possibility of collusion among the carriers when they all increased their rates for text messages within a few weeks of the others.

For Snowe, the new legislation is just the latest of a string initiatives that have established her as one of the leading voices for IT and telecom legislation in the Senate. In this session, Snowe has already cosponsored legislation that would require the FCC to take a thorough inventory of the wireless spectrum that could be used for new broadband networks, as well as a bill to revamp the government’s cyber defenses.

She is also planning to reintroduce Net neutrality legislation within the next several weeks, an aide in her office has told

Snowe, a moderate, is also seen as a key crossover vote in the Senate when Democrats look to snag Republican votes to reach the magic number of 60. Snowe joined with her colleague from Maine, Susan Collins, and Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter in crossing party lines to clear the $787 billion economic stimulus package in February.

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