John Schwartz of The New York Times called me two weeks ago and asked for comment about a potential controversy involving mobile phone provider Sprint and the charitable organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The facts were pretty sketchy at the time, but Schwartz told me that CRS was accusing Sprint of blocking Mobile Commons, the company that connects CRS and 100 other nonprofit organizations with text messaging networks, from getting a short code to create a charitable mobile donation program in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. Here’s the basic background that appeared in Schwartz’s March 24th article, “Catholic Charity and Sprint Tangle Over Texting“:
[CRS] wanted to try a twist on the technology: when people sent a text message to donate, they got a reply offering to connect them via phone to the charity’s call center. The group hoped that the calls could build a stronger bond with donors, and garner larger contributions as well. But just three days into the effort after the Jan. 12 earthquake, the charity got word that Sprint Nextel was demanding that the “text-to-call” effort be shut down. The charity had 40 days to abandon the feature or lose access to millions of Sprint customers. Sprint’s original motivations are murky; it said that an intermediary company had failed to properly fill out a form to verify that it was dealing with a legitimate charity.
It didn’t take long for the regulatory activists at Free Press and Public Knowledge to pounce and claim the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had to intervene to save our souls from the nefarious scum at Sprint. After all, you do know that Sprint hates Haitians, right? The company obviously wanted to see Haitians starve and not receive any support from charitable organizations.
No, seriously, come on! How asinine is this storyline?! Continue reading →