: Why will US carriers shun XXX-rated services?"> The U.S telecoms right now are in a better position than theyve ever been to effect some of the changes in federal regulations that theyve been seeking for a long time. Its not likely theyll be interested in offering services likely to spark a public backlash that will turn congressional sentiments against them.Cell phones and SMS (Short Message Service) devices have become as much of a staple as bookbags among American youth. One glimpse of a Paris Hilton video on a kids cell phone is about all it would take to launch a parental lobby intent on sharpening regulatory teeth to prevent such things. No one wants to see the long-awaited reform of the federal Telecommunications Act side-railed by an industry that most of us would prefer to forget exists. Back in the days before wireless, when I covered educational computing for a consumer technology magazine, I was asked to testify on the matter before the House Subcommittee on Crime. Kids-on-the-Internet was a relatively new phenomenon. Parents-on-the-Internet was even newer, and most were helpless when it came to coping with the volume of X-rated materials they saw coming onto computer screens. It promised to be a regulatory time bomb, I told the committee. Families had been calling me to ask why, if there were federal regulations that kept this stuff from coming to their homes through the mail, the government couldnt crack down on adult sites or force the ISPs to do something about it. Since then, ISPs have risen to the occasion by putting protections in placetaking down Web sites that draw complaints and putting filters in place to stop XXX messages from getting into family mailboxes. Mobile operators are in an even better position to exercise controls. All they have to do is just say no to subscription services that offer questionable content, and they send adult content providers packing in search of other venues. Of course, this always raises the question that brings out the free-market advocates and civil libertarians who ask: What about the rights of adults who want it and would willingly pay for it? Do the telecoms have the right to stonewall an industry, even if it is an industry most of us would prefer to forget about? Click here to read more about the controversy surrounding Web content filtering. Our friends across the pond grappled with this question last year and came up with a model that could serve the ticket. In an effort to avoid government regulation, six British service providers agree to a Code of Practice regarding adult content and adopted controls to restrict access to adult sites from mobile phones by kids under 18. Stephen Timms, a member of Parliament and Britains Communications Minister, applauded the move at the time, saying, "We believe this approach best meets the needs and expectations of consumers." It works like this. The operators rate and code mobile content, much in the same way the film industry rates movies according to adult content. Phone service is sold with mechanisms for filtering out content according to the rating. Parents can set controls on their kids phones, hand them the device, and be relatively sure theyre not seeing what Mom and Dad dont want them to see. Additionally, the British operators promised to block access by kids under 18 to unmoderated chat rooms, institute a series of checks to verify age, deploy technology to combat spam and unsolicited SMS messages, and work with law-enforcement officials stem the tide of illegal content. The scantily clad genie, however, is not likely to go back into the bottle. Back in 2000, a survey by mobile software provider Magic 4, found that one in four European mobile phone users willingly engaged in "text sex" using the SMS feature on mobile phones. As long as there is a demand for this sort of thing, the industry is not likely to go away. Carol Ellison is editor of the eWEEK Wireless Topic Center. She has worked as a technology journalist since 1986 and has covered the wireless industry since 2000. She has written for numerous publications, including PC Magazine, VARBusiness, The Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, and is the author of several whitepapers on 802.11 standards. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
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