On April 23, 2021, the FCC released a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) in the Implementation of the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018, which was adopted by the Commission at the April Open Meeting. The FNPRM seeks to expand accessibility to the Lifeline by proposing and seeking comment on requiring covered text providers to support text messages to 988, the designated 3-digit dialing code for the Lifeline. The FNPRM seeks comment on the following:
- The FCC’s tentative conclusion that text-to-988 functionality would greatly improve access to the Lifeline, particularly in the most at-risk populations, and thereby save lives. In addition, the FCC seeks comment on the potential benefits of expanded access to 988 and a text-to-988 mandate.
- The scope of the text-to-988 requirements, including the text formats that covered text providers must transmit, which providers should be required to comply with a text-to-988 mandate, and which services and platforms should be required to comply with a text-to-988 mandate. The FCC proposes to apply the text-to-988 requirement to “covered text providers” as defined in the text-to-911 rules (i.e., CMRS providers and other providers of interconnected text messaging services that enable consumers to send text messages to, and receive text messages from, all or substantially all text-capable US telephone numbers).
- Whether to require covered text providers to route 988 text messages to the current 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or to a local crisis center.
- Whether to require covered text providers to enable text-to-988 to include location information. The FCC recognizes that since it has not adopted a location mandate for calls to 988, it believes such a mandate in the texting context would be premature, and seeks comment on this view.
- An implementation timeline for text-to-988, including whether a uniform nationwide deadline is appropriate, regardless of the test messaging technology used, and if so what the appropriate deadline should be. The FCC asks whether text-to-988 should be required to be supported by July 16, 2022, the same implementation deadline to support voice calls to 988, or whether there should be a separate deadline.
- Additional technical considerations for covered text providers and equipment and software vendors that are necessary to implement text-to-988, including potential network and equipment upgrades.
- Cost recovery of implementing text-to-988, including the FCC’s proposal to require providers to bear their own costs for their unique solutions adopted to route 988 text messages.
- Whether covered text providers should be required to send automatic bounce-back messages where the text-to-988 service is unavailable, including the costs and benefits of such a requirement, how it may affect the public’s ability to seek help from the Lifeline, and which specific requirements and exceptions the FCC should adopt.
- What role the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs should play in implementing and managing text-to-988.
On April 1, 2021, the FCC had released a Draft of the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Draft FNPRM”). The following substantive changes were made from the Draft FNPRM:
- ¶ 64 – adopting a tentative conclusion that the FCC has authority to adopt the proposals in the FNPRM under the Communications and Video Accessibility Act, as opposed to section 251(e), which grants the FCC jurisdiction over numbering, and seeking comment on this conclusion. In addition, the FCC included a request for comment on whether text-to-988 is necessary to achieve reliable, interoperable communication that ensures access by persons with disabilities to an IP-enabled emergency services network.
- ¶ 65 – seeking comment on other sources of authority the FCC may rely on to adopt the proposals in the FNPRM and in particular whether it may rely on section 251(e). In addition, the FCC included a request for comment on whether their numbering authority provides an additional, independent basis to adopt rules with respect to CMRS providers and interconnected text messaging services.
Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and Commissioner Starks issued separate statements in support of the FNPRM.
Comments will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Reply comments will be due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
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