Text Message Regulators and Laws

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The quickly evolving telecommunications landscape has been hemmed in by many different regulators, from the government to private industry, that affects the way everyone who wants to utilize text message marketing for their business. Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991 that still largely affects our more modern device usage, and organizations like the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) continue to hold sway over best practices for SMS communication.

Understanding the role these regulators and their rules play in your marketing efforts is key to avoiding legal action and succeeding with a text message marketing campaign.

Federal Regulators

Along with the explicit rules for telecommunication practices outlined in the TCPA, there are current federal agencies that govern all cellular communications practices, including text messages. They include:

  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • The CTIA

These parties have different influences on cellular and other forms of media throughout the country. Perhaps most famously, the FCC sets regulations for wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) that trickle down to their customers, as well as providing information like TV ratings. With other influence over consumer rights is the FTC, which handles allegations of false advertising, theft, or violence committed over media channels, as well as fraud that occurs through text, email, calls, or faxes.

Finally, the CTIA is a collection of wireless carriers and media companies who lobby and influence legislation to influence the interests of the wireless industry. Their rules as iron-clad as actual legislation, but can result in text marketing campaigns or the businesses that run them being punished or banned from broadcasting messages that aren’t aligned with their regulations.

Mobile Carriers, Providers, And Senders

Besides federal regulators, mobile carriers and providers might stipulate their own rules on what they do and don’t allow (or recommend) you send through automated systems. You absolutely need to follow mobile carriers’ guidelines, such as sending messages from a 10-digit number rather than the 6-digit short code people initially text.

The rules differ by carrier, and since you can’t know which carrier any given contact uses, you need to abide by all their rules at once. This is where a messaging provider can help.

Messaging providers are services that essentially handle all the details of sending text message marketing campaigns to your list of contacts in exchange for a fee. They’re up to date with the latest carrier restrictions, legal rules, and other compliance requirements that applies to your specific industry. They might also have best practices that could shift your individual messages to be more effective.

Finally, you, the sender, have internal processes and brand guidelines that could affect a text message campaign. Although they’re far from federal laws, you should be aware that people receiving your messages expect a consistent experience from the confirmation text to their opt-out request. It helps to have rules or guidelines in place to keep the brand aligned no matter how long they stay on your contact list.

Specific Text Marketing Rules

For all the regulators and their rules, there are just a few that might actually change a common courtesy text message campaign. We recommend paying attention to these specific text message marketing rules:

  • Do not purchase lists of phone numbers and automatically subscribe them to your next campaign.
  • Obtain consent in writing whenever feasible.
  • Do not distribute copyrighted or trademarked material that does not belong to your company.
  • Be clear about the nature of the campaign – recurring alerts (like regular appointment reminders) must be differentiated from one-time messages (such as delivery notifications)
  • Do not send inappropriate content relating to sex, hate speech, alcohol, firearms, or tobacco.