Should an individual who opts out of text messages receive just one more?

Amid the hundreds of pages of serious stuff coming out of the FCC every day, an occasional oddity catches our eye.

If you have a cell phone, you know about junk texts. From the moment the wireless phone companies began to offer text messaging, it was just a matter of time till we started getting unwanted texts, much as we get telemarketing calls, junk faxes, and email spam. But junk texts can be worse. Not only are we distracted by the unwelcome message, we may have to pay for it, too. Many widely-used wireless phone plans charge 15 or 20 cents per text message sent or received, whether we want it or not.

Back in 2003, the FCC made sending most automated junk texts to cell phones illegal. Since junk texts have to be automated to reach any reasonable number of people, and it is mostly cell phones that can receive them, that pretty much ruled out junk texts altogether. There are exceptions, including one for companies you do business with. Your pharmacy, for example, can send you a text message saying your prescription is ready. But as to these cases, the FCC requires that you have the opportunity to opt out.

A company called SoundBite Communications, Inc., whose business includes sending out texts for other companies, came to the FCC with a problem verging on the metaphysical.

As soon as SoundBite receives an opt-out request from a customer, it courteously sends back a confirmation that it received the request. But wait. At the time of that confirmation message, the customer has already opted out. Does that not make the confirmation a blatant violation of the junk text rules? Some lawyers must think so – SoundBite says its industry is the target of multi-million dollar class action lawsuits based just on these confirmations.

So SoundBite has asked the FCC for a ruling that these one-time opt-out confirmation messages are lawful, despite appearances to the contrary, and the FCC has duly requested comment on that request from the public at large. If you have something to say, don’t text the FCC; post your comments by April 30, 2012 and reply comments by May 15.

Next week the FCC takes up the sound of one hand clapping . . . and the implications for hearing-aid compatible telephones.