FCC authorizes states to levy suicide prevention 988 hotline fees on voice providers

FCC authorizes states to levy suicide prevention 988 hotline fees on voice providers

You may have heard that suicide prevention has been a high priority for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But did you know it’s leading to a new category for communications fees?

The FCC’s new 988 national hotline is likely to create new obligations for businesses that provide voice service, which means this is another area communications companies should be watching closely.

Communications billing impacts of the 988 suicide prevention hotline

In October 2020, new FCC rules went into effect to establish 988 as the nationwide phone number to connect Americans in crisis with suicide prevention and mental health counselors. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 paved the way for a universal hotline to be up and running by July 2022.

The new 988 service cuts the previous hotline by eight digits, and is being praised by mental health advocates as a step forward in ensuring people get the help they need, fast. It comes with new rules that will apply to all telecommunications carriers and interconnected VoIP service providers, which will be required to direct all 988 calls to the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline following an initial two-year transition.

However, those aren’t the only implications.

In taking steps to nationalize the hotline, federal authorities have also set the stage for regulatory fees. Most notably, the states now have the authority to collect fees from voice providers, similar to the method used in many regions to finance 911.

While those fees haven’t yet been added to state regulatory dockets — the process typically takes years — public utility regulators are likely to get started on systems to levy them within the next several months.

What the 988 fees mean for you

The bottom line: If you’re currently paying per-line, per-month public utility fees such as those collected for poison control and 911, plan on adding to that list by 2022. States will soon begin to set up programs for funding the universal 988 hotline, and it pays to be prepared well in advance.

Some states are likely to start charging individual 988 fees, while others may roll them into a combined utility fee. Regardless of what shape each fee takes, you’ll need to have tax calculation and filing systems in place to ensure you remain compliant in every state where you do business.

Best way to do that? Stay vigilant. Communications tax laws change frequently, and 988 fees are no exception. Be sure to check regularly for updates and developments across jurisdictions.

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