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Moriarty & Benson Bill Outlawing Unsolicited Text Message Ads Approved by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty and Daniel R. Benson sponsored 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 Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “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.”
The bill (A-617) 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 Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “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.”
For purposes of this bill, an unsolicited advertisement means any message sent, without the prior permission of the recipient, to encourage the purchase or rental of, or investment in, merchandise or services.
The bill requires the recipient’s express permission, including the number to which text message advertisements may be sent, before any such advertisements may be sent.
In addition, the bill requires any telecommunications company that sells, or offers to sell, text messaging services to offer an option allowing customers to block all incoming and outgoing text messages.
Under the bill, the telecommunications company may continue to send customers text messages concerning their existing accounts, if the customer will not incur a telecommunications charge or a usage allocation deduction as a result of the message being sent.
A violation of the provisions of the bill constitutes an unlawful practice. An unlawful practice under the Consumer Fraud Act is punishable by a monetary penalty of not more than $10,000 for a first offense and not more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense. In addition, 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.
The bill was released by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Moriarty.