First it was the peace of our homes that was disturbed by an invasion of unwanted commercial telephone calls by companies marketing their products and services. The same kind of intrusion soon targeted our cellular telephones. Then there were those bothersome, unsolicited e-mails that started peppering our accounts. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that now, quick on the heels of the emergence and prominence of text messaging in our daily lives, that businesses are sending out unwanted texts to our cellular phones. This latest assault isn’t just an annoying distraction like the uninvited commercial messages previous listed: For many cell phone users, it’s one that comes with a direct cost tied to each message received.
Thankfully, a group of state lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle has stepped up with legislation to prevent businesses from pestering those with text messaging service. We can only hope the bipartisan support for the legislative “Do Not Disturb” proposal will carry through to enactment.
State Sen. Mike Kowall (R-Commerce, Highland, Milford, Walled Lake, Wixom, Wolverine Lake, White Lake, Orchard Lake, West Bloomfield) and three other Republicans have signed on to a bipartisan measure with a host of Senate Democrats to amend the state’s Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail Protection Act of 2003. The lawmakers are looking to prohibit certain commercial vendors from blasting out unsolicited text messages.
Kowall said he believes the bipartisan support for the legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 565, bodes well for its chances in the state’s upper chamber.
The bill, which has been referred to the Senate Energy and Technology Committee, defines a commercial text message as one that promotes the sale, lease, or exchange of goods, services, real property, or any other thing of value.
The bill would ban the sending of unsolicited commercial text messages to residents of Michigan.
If enacted, the amended law would not apply to commercial text messages sent by individuals, or an affiliate of a business, with a pre-existing business relationship with the resident if that resident has agreed to receive the messages.
In addition, the legislation would establish that a person sending out commercial text messages is required to establish a toll-free telephone number, a valid sender-operated return text message number, or another easy-to-use electronic method that the recipient of the text can call or text back to notify the sender to stop transmitting unwanted messages.
Violators of the bill’s provisions, if enacted, would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than a year or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. A person who violates the enacted provisions in the furtherance of another crime would be guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than four years or a fine of not more than $25,000, or both.
Under the bill’s current language, each commercial e-mail or text message sent in violation of the enacted provisions would be considered a separate violation. The bill states it’s prima facie evidence that the sender of a text message would be in violation of the amended law if the recipient is unable to contact the sender through the return number or text option provided by the sender.
According to Kowall, the unsolicited receipt of commercial text messages is a growing problem in Michigan. He notes that cellular telephone customers that don’t have unlimited texting service through their cell phone account get charged for each unsolicited commercial text received, just like they do with any other text message. Businesses make use of computerized speed dial systems to send out as many as a million commercial texts at a time, messages that are often charged to the recipient, according to Kowall.
Michigan’s lawmakers should make quick work of enacting this common-sense and most appreciated amendment to the Unsolicited Commercial E-Mail Protection Act.
The public certainly was justified in its disdain for unsolicited commercial robo-calls — and yes, those that were placed by a live person — trying to push this, that and the other product or service. The e-mailed version of these uninvited commercial messages were slightly more palatable since they didn’t interrupt dinner or family time, but were irritating, nonetheless. Hearing the public’s din of protest, laws were enacted to at least limit such disturbances.
But at least the recipients of those didn’t have to pay an extra charge for each and every one of the unsolicited messages. That’s precisely what’s happening now to cellular phone users who haven’t opted for unlimited texting — they’re paying for every single text sent or received, including the unwanted commercial texts.
SB 565 would put a lid on that kind of marketing, and needs to be expedited through the Legislature.