FCC Ruling Helps Clarify What COVID-19 Texts and Calls Are “Emergency” Under TCPA
The FCC recently issued a declaratory ruling explaining what calls and text message alerts it viewed as “emergency” for purposes of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Under TCPA, requirements to obtain consent to make certain calls and texts to cell phone numbers do not apply when a message is an “emergency.” Under the FCC’s new ruling, certain calls and texts from government officials and healthcare providers about the COVID-19 pandemic will be viewed as emergency messages.
This ruling is narrow. First, the call or text must be from a hospital, health care provider, state or local official, or other government official. (Or initiated by a person acting under the express direction of such an organization.) Second, the message must provide information directly related to imminent health or safety risks arising out of the pandemic. Examples might be a government-issued “shelter in place” text, or a text from a hospital with vital information intended to slow the spread of the virus. The exception thus does not apply to general information about COVID-19, nor information about the pandemic that comes companies that do not fit into the narrow scope (hospital, health care providers, etc.).
Putting It Into Practice: This ruling provides direction for hospitals, health care providers and others about what might be viewed as an exception to the need to obtain consent prior to sending the call or text.