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2/12/2013 12:40:00 PM
Arizona wants to outlaw automated systems to send text messages trying to sell goods or services

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- The way state lawmakers figure it, 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. Violators could wind up paying fines of $750.

And to be sure that companies don't look for a loophole, the same prohibition also applies to what are texts purportedly requesting survey information 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 I got I got a text: Find all the hot babes in Phoenix,' he told members of the committee 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 which allows individuals to register both landline and cell phone numbers to make them off limits to most unwanted calls. There are exceptions, though, for political calls and polling.

Stevens said his legislation falls in the same category.

The measure is drawing questions from several cell phone companies.

Jerry Fuentes, the 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 their 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 that the message is unsolicited, as opposed to a customer having asked for such notifications.

Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said that, annoyance aside, some customers have not purchased a cell phone plan which includes a fixed number of text messages. The result, he said, is that 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 where a customer has requested such notifications.

He noted that new federal rules, set to take effect in October, will require prior express written consent to deliver an autodialed marketing call or text message to a cell phone. That rules 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.

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