Government Affairs

President Signs S. 2661, National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020; CEA petition for reconsideration of 988 Order

October 20, 2020

Summary:

This past July, the FCC designated 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crises hotline number and required all telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP providers, including one-way VoIP providers, to implement the new number in their networks by July 16, 2022.

The FCC determined that establishing a new three-digit number was the least disruptive solution.  Only around 12 percent of legacy circuit switches would need to be upgraded or replaced to accommodate the software and programming changes needed for 988 routing.  Moreover, although areas using 7-digit dialing with 988 as the NXX central office code will need to transition to 10-digit dialing, this change would affect only 87 (or 27 percent) of area codes.

Once implemented providers must route 988 calls to the existing suicide prevention line, 1-800-273-8255, and must transmit the calling party number. The need to upgrade or replace older circuit switches may also help speed the IP transition.  Providers are expected to bear their own costs to implement 988 dialing and they may increase their rates to recover costs from their subscribers.  The FCC declined to empower states to establish a cost recovery mechanism.

On October 17, 2020, however, the President signed legislation also designating 988 as the national suicide hotline number and it allows state and local governments to collect fees from wireless and VoIP providers to defray government costs of ensuring efficient and effective routing of 988 calls and for providing mental health and crises management services.  The legislation also directs the FCC to assess the feasibility of transmitting dispatchable location information with a 988 call.

Finally, a group of associations representing persons with disabilities have asked the FCC to require reconsider the order by requiring text-to-988 capabilities.

More details:

While the legislation essentially codifies what the FCC is already doing in designating 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number, it also includes language regarding state authority over fees, which prohibits the FCC from adopting any order or regulation that would prevent states from collecting fees for 9-8-8 related services.  See:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/bill-announcement-101720/

In addition, the Communications Equality Advocates on Friday filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the FCC 9-8-8 Order, asking the FCC to revise the Order to mandate that by July 16, 2022, a) wireless carriers and covered text providers also must implement text-to-988 capability to communicate with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and b) that the Lifeline by capable of receiving and responding to communications using Direct Video Calling.

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