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Phone Firm May Bar Sex Messages, U.S. Court Rules

September 15, 1987|From United Press International

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that a regional telephone company may bar a Phoenix business from using its 976 dial-a-message network for sexual entertainment messages.

"The essential question before us is whether a regional telephone company, despite its public utility status, may refuse to carry smut on its dial-a-message network," U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Joseph T. Sneed said in reversing a lower court decision.

Strongly Adverse Letters

"The district court concluded that it may not. We disagree and therefore vacate the injunction."

Carlin Communications Inc. had its message service terminated by Mountain States Tel. & Tel. Co. (Mountain Bell) in 1985 after the telephone company received strongly adverse letters concerning the sexual messages.

Among the objections to the messages were school officials who complained about children calling Carlin's number, as well as newspaper editorials criticizing Mountain Bell for profiting from such entertainment.

A deputy county attorney of Maricopa County, Ariz., also wrote to Mountain Bell threatening to prosecute if the company continued to provide 976 lines to Carlin, contending that the service violated an Arizona law prohibiting the distribution of sexually explicit material to minors.

Soon after barring Carlin's messages, Mountain Bell adopted a policy refusing 976 service to any company offering sexual entertainment messages.

Carlin sued Mountain Bell, asserting First Amendment rights and Arizona public utility laws. The district court granted summary judgment for Carlin on both grounds, ordering the telephone company to restore Carlin's 976 service.

But the federal appeals court reversed the district court ruling.

"Mountain Bell permissibly exercised its judgment here," Sneed wrote for the majority.

"It did not single Carlin out for adverse treatment, but excluded all adult entertainment messages from the 976 network. This policy is clearly consonant with Arizona public policy, which prohibits the distribution of sexually explicit material to minors."

Sneed noted that the initial termination of Carlin by Mountain Bell was an unconstitutional state action but that the following ban on all sexual messages was not.

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