FCC Opens Further Rulemaking on National Suicide Hotline Improvements

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a further notice of Proposed Rulemaking. This notice begins a comment period under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) regarding the proposed rules and actions the FCC intends to take regarding modernizing and improving access to the National Suicide Hotline in regards to the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act of 2018.

The National Suicide Hotline provides vital emergency support for individuals contemplating suicide and other forms of self-harm. While the hotline has existed as a national toll free number, the National Suicide Improvement Act of 2018 recognized that due to technological and societal changes, the addition of text capabilities would lead to a greater accessibility by consumers, including certain at-risk, but underserved populations such as young people, low income individuals, members of the LGBTQ community, and individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

The proposed rulemaking cites studies indicating that generationally younger populations prefer to text rather than call and also that sometimes in crisis, writing is easier than speaking out loud.

Currently, the National Suicide Hotline is capable of receiving SMS messaging via the toll free 10 digit hotline number. The proposed rulemaking seeks comment on making a three digit dial in number 998 capable of receiving full text services, similar to the full capabilities of the 911 emergency services system. This would result in an easier to remember number as well as removing confusion as to whether the messaging service preferred by the consumer is usable with the hotline’s system.

The comment period seeks confirmation of the types of messaging that need to be supported, confirmation of the preference of messaging for the at-risk groups, confirmation if the system should support older messaging systems such as TTY for people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, cost recovery methods, proposals for what to do with bounced or incomplete messages, and finally a timeline for the implementation of this system.  Comments are due 60 days from the official publication.