Bill Outlawing Unsolicited Text Message Ads Approved by Assembly Panel

TRENTON — Bi-partisan legislation to prohibit advertisers from sending unwelcome and unsolicited advertisements to consumers via text messaging was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“Unwanted text messages not only tax consumers’ patience, but they are a drain on cell minutes and bank accounts,” said Assemblyman Paul Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Just as telephone customers have been able to close their homes to unwanted telemarketing calls, cell customers should be able to be free of unwanted text ads. What we’re trying to do here is assist consumers in avoiding unnecessary charges as a result of receiving messages that are unsolicited and over which the user has no control.”

“This pro-consumer legislation will reduce the unwanted solicitations that cell phone owners receive,” said Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union, Morris and Somerset.) “Oftentimes, people have no idea how their phone number was obtained because they never granted permission. Consumers need to be safeguarded from unsolicited marketing that can be costly and done without their knowledge.”

The bill (A-1218) would prohibit the sending of unsolicited advertisements by text messaging if they may cause recipients to incur additional cellular charges or reductions in their cell plans’ allocation of usage minutes.

“For individuals with a limited data plan, receiving a large number of unsolicited text messages may force them to rack up unwanted charges on their cell phone bill,” said Assemblyman Ruben Ramos, Jr. (D-Hudson). “The growing number of complaints regarding unwanted text advertisements can no longer be ignored. Cell phone users deserve basic protections against business practices that cause headaches and cost them money.”

Under the bill, companies could send text advertisements only to cell customers who give express consent. Consumers would be able to revoke an advertiser’s texting privileges at any time.

Violations of the measure would be punishable under the state’s consumer fraud act, with fines of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for repeat offenses, as well as injunctive relief, triple damages, and restitution. Additionally, violations can result in cease and desist orders issued by the Attorney General, the assessment of punitive damages and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured party.

However, a person may not be held liable for a violation if any unsolicited advertisement sent by text messaging was an isolated message sent no more than one time in a 12-month period.

It should be noted that the bill does allow telecommunications companies to continue to correspond by text message with existing customers that have requested to have all incoming and outgoing text messages blocked, so long as the communication pertains to the customer’s existing account and no telecommunications charge or usage allocation deduction results.

The bill was approved 4-0 by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.

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