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Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

A Federal Communications Commission decision on Wednesday gives wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon more power to block text and multimedia messages.

Why it matters: The Republican-led FCC says that it is just empowering the companies to block spam texts. Its critics say it opens the door to censoring other kinds of text messages, too.

Details: The FCC voted along party lines for a ruling that treats text messaging as an "information service" under the law. If texting had been classified as a "telecommunications service," as public interest groups requested more than a decade ago, providers would be subject to strict rules meant to prevent discrimination between messages from different parties.

  • Twilio, a Silicon Valley company that enables mass texting, had asked the agency to rule that wireless messages are governed by the "telecommunications" rules.
  • Republican FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr made the case that the agency was bringing text and multimedia messaging in line with other popular Silicon Valley creations — like WhatsApp and Snapchat — that are regulated as "information services."

What they're saying:

  • "In short, we stand with American consumers, not those trying to bombard them with spam or scam robotexts," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a prepared statement.
  • Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in her statement that the commission's argument was "doublespeak" and that the decision "means your carrier now has the legal right to block your text messages and censor the very content of your messages."

The big picture: This is another example — like last year's net neutrality repeal — of regulators grappling with the boundaries of web services and the infrastructure that delivers them to consumers, with Republicans again leaning toward more deregulation and a freer hand for big providers.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.