AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile agree not to charge for many spam texts

Three of the largest cellphone carriers have agreed to stop charging their customers for "premium" commercial text messages.

Forty-five state attorneys general brokered the agreement with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile. In a statement Thursday, Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell's office said that "premium" text messages account for an "overwhelming majority" of complaints about illegitimate charges on phone bills.

Third parties are able to use "premium" text messages to charge consumers for a recurring message service, such as trivia or jokes. Although the service is used by some charities and other legitimate organizations, officials say it is especially popular with scammers.

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“This is a victory for cell phone users in Vermont and across the nation,” Sorrell said in a statement. “We are pleased that AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile have decided to stop the flow of money from the pockets of ordinary people to the bank accounts of scam artists."

Verizon, the nation's largest wireless carrier, was not part of the state agreement, but the company said it is "winding down" its premium messaging business.

“While we don’t agree with all of the Attorney General’s allegations, we respect his efforts in this area," Verizon General Counsel William Petersen said in a statement. "For years, Verizon has been vigilant in protecting our customers from bad actors."

He said Verizon would continue to support text-to-donate programs by charities and political campaigns.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) applauded the announcement by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

"For too long consumers have had to deal with bogus and unfair charges that linger in the shadows of phone bills, and are often impossible to reverse even if a customer realizes they’ve been crammed,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “The largest wireless carriers are putting customers first with this decision, and in turn, they’re taking a major step forward toward eliminating this problem. I strongly urge all other carriers to follow their lead.” 

—Updated at 3:17 p.m.