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

 Legislation Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Daniel R. Benson and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to prohibit advertisers from sending unwelcome and unsolicited advertisements to consumers via text messaging was approved 77-0 Thursday by the Assembly.

"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."

 Legislation Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Daniel R. Benson and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to prohibit advertisers from sending unwelcome and unsolicited advertisements to consumers via text messaging was approved 77-0 Thursday by the Assembly.

"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."

"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."

"The bill prohibits the sending of an unsolicited advertisement by means of a text message to a resident of New Jersey if it may cause the recipient to incur a telecommunications charge or a usage allocation deduction," said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). "The bill requires the recipient's express permission, including the number to which text message advertisements may be sent, before any unsolicited advertisements may be sent."

Text messaging is defined as the wireless transmission of text, images, or a combination of text and images by means of a cellular telephone, a paging or message service, a personal digital assistant, or other electronic communications device.

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. 

Additionally, 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 under the consumer fraud act. An unlawful practice 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. 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.

Under the provisions of the bill, a person may not be held liable for a violation if the person demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that any unsolicited advertisement sent by text messaging was an isolated message sent no more than one time in a 12-month period.

The bill will now be referred to the Senate.