On October 17, 2020, President Trump signed S. 2661 — the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 (the “Act”). In addition to codifying the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) designation of 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number, the Act clears the path for imposing 9-8-8 fees on carriers. It does so by prohibiting the FCC from adopting any order or regulation that would prevent states and local governments from collecting such fees.
While we must wait to find out whether 9-8-8-related fees will be administered similarly to 9-1-1 fees, or whether state and local governments will adopt different approaches, the Act does require 9-8-8 fees to be held in a designated account to be spent only in support of 9-8-8 services. Further, the FCC must report annually on state administration of these fees.
Additionally, on October 16, the Communications Equality Advocates filed a Petition for Reconsideration of the FCC 9-8-8 Order (“Order”) to ensure that people who cannot or have difficulty making voice calls due to their disability are given equal access to 9-8-8 services at the same time as able-bodied callers. The petition specifically asks the FCC to revise the Order to mandate that by July 16, 2022 — the same deadline that applies to the covered providers’ implementation of voice calling to 988 :
- wireless carriers and “covered text providers,” as defined in the Text-to-911 proceeding, enable text-to-911 access to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; and
- the Lifeline support Direct Video Calling through suicide counselors who can communicate directly in American Sign Language (“ASL”).
The Petition responds to the concern that persons with hearing and/or speech disabilities would be impermissibly disadvantaged without these accommodations, arguing that making use of third-party relay services could cause unacceptable delay in life-threatening situations. It further warns that third-party ASL interpreters are inadequate in a suicide crisis, because they are not trained in the area of suicide prevention and, thus, are unreliable intermediaries.
If you have any questions about how these developments may impact your company, please contact Michal J. Nowicki, Esq., 703-714-1311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.