Understanding the TCPA

Big Win For Utilities: The TCPA Laws Have Been Clarified

51561463-compliance-blue-round-grunge-vintage-ribbon-stampUtilities want to provide the best possible service to their customers.  TextPower wants to provide the best possible service to utilities.  That’s all good but until a recent development there was some confusion about what we were each allowed to do by the Federal Communications Commission because of what has become known as “TCPA.”

TCPA, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, was originally designed with good intentions.  Nobody wants to have their dinner or favorite TV show interrupted by an uninvited telemarketing phone call and TCPA was intended to stop that.  TCPA states that you can’t make a call or send a text message to someone about buying something, for example, without that user’s explicit permission, or what the industry calls an “opt-in.”

Cell phones have become our personal companions and the need to protect them from abuse is real, especially because more than 40% of households in the U.S. don’t even have a landline phone anymore.  The problem was that there wasn’t enough clarity in the law and it left doubt as to whether you could send important information via text message and still comply with the law.

You just want to be able to send a text message to your residential and commercial customers advising them when their power was out, or going to be out, or when it would be restored, or when a storm was coming or if they needed to make a payment to avoid service termination – and you want to be able to do it fast.  TextPower sends up to 200 messages PER SECOND and can communicate important information to utility users faster than any other method.

But you may have been reluctant to use text messaging for these purposes because of the lack of clarity surrounding the TCPA.  Thankfully, what was unclear before is now crystal clear thanks to what is called a “declaratory ruling” by the FCC.  TextPower, in fact, had petitioned the FCC in support of a filing made by the Edison Electric Institute requesting a clarification of the issue.  Simply put, we all wanted to know if it was permissible to send a text message containing important or emergency – but not marketing-related – information related to their utility service without a customer having “opted in” to receive it.

The FCC issued a ruling on August 4th that makes it clear without doubt that it is absolutely permissible to do so.  As long as that customer has given you their mobile number in the normal course of doing business you can send important information related to their utility service to them via text message in compliance with TCPA.

This means that if you want to send text messages containing information such as storm alerts, notices about tree trimming or meter reading, usage that could lead to brown outs, payment issues or other things that could impact delivery of someone’s service, you can.  There is no need for a separate “opt-in” as long as the consumer provided you with their mobile number in the normal course of doing business.

Now, to be clear, you are NOT allowed to send debt collection messages after service has been disconnected, or offers for discounted goods through the arrangements with local businesses or marketing messages similar to that.  And you should always include a simple “Reply STOP to quit” in the text messages you send so that people can opt out of future messages if they choose to.

But make no mistake – you clearly can send messages with information that is important for your users related to their service without being concerned about violating the TCPA rules.

TextPower offers a couple of services that can help you do this right.  We can upload a list of numbers from your customer information system (CIS) into our database and scrub it so that only wireless numbers are stored in our system.  This can also help you clean up your CIS database.  Included in your service is our TCPA Compliance Program that automatically gathers all disconnected mobile numbers from all cellular carriers nationwide and compares them against our utility customer’s lists of phone numbers.  We remove disconnected numbers from your database so you do not inadvertently send a text to that number after it is reassigned to a non-customer in the future.  We also have a service that you can subscribe to that provides you with a list of numbers that have been disconnected, so that you can remove them from your records, too, to be on the safe side and avoid phone calls to them as well.

We’re here to help you do it right but the best news is that thanks to the efforts of people in the utility industry this no longer is unclear.  You have the right to send important or emergency information that may impact their utility service via text message to anyone who has given their phone number to you in the normal course of doing business.

For assistance on getting this program setup just call us at 888.818.1808 or email Info@TextPower.com.  We’ll help you communicate with your customers legally, properly and efficiently through our great text messaging service.

Thanks for your time.  As always, TextPower really appreciates your business.