Amended rule to take effect on expedited basis; Rule adopted last May to be waived pending effectiveness of amendment

There’s nothing like an impending deadline to get your attention – even if you are the FCC.

Readers will recall that, just last May, the Commission adopted new rules requiring text-to-911 “bounce-back” messages when a person sends a text message to “911” but text-to-911 capabilities are not actually available. As we reported, the new rules were set to take effect on September 30, 2013. But in July, CTIA sought reconsideration, pointing out that the bounce-back rule (Section 20.18(n)(7), if you need to know) would be impossible for carriers to comply with for roaming customers due to the way text-to-911 messages are handled. Obviously, addressing that problem before the effective date was a matter of some importance.

And sure enough, the FCC has done what needed to be done. In an Order on Reconsideration issued on (wait for it) September 30, the FCC amended Section 20.18(n)(7) to read as follows:

(7) Notwithstanding any other provisions in this section, when a consumer is roaming on a covered text provider’s host network pursuant to 20.12, the covered text provider operating the consumer’s home network shall have the obligation to originate an automatic bounce-back message to such consumer when (a) the consumer is located in an area where text-to-911 service is unavailable, or (b) the home provider does not support text-to-911 service in that area at the time. The host provider shall not impede the consumer’s 911 text message to the home provider and/or any automatic bounce-back message originated by the home provider to the consumer roaming on the host network.

This appears to address the problem identified by CTIA.

But this amendment won’t go into effect until it’s been published in the Federal Register, while the rule as adopted last May is already in effect. Doesn’t that mean that, at least for the time being, providers are technically in violation of the rule (even if compliance with the rule is technically impossible)?

Enter Section 1.3, the bureaucrat’s best friend. Section 1.3 allows the Commission to waive its rules on its own motion if good cause warrants. And the Commission has apparently found plenty of good cause here. It has waived Section 20.18(n)(7) on its own motion pending the effective date of the amendment. The amended rule will become effective immediately upon publication in the Federal Register (which trims off a usual 30-day waiting period). 

It remains to be seen whether carriers will have a problem with the amended rule as it is unclear whether the inability of a serving carrier to transmit text-to-911 messages to a home carrier, or the inability of a serving carrier to transmit such messages from a home carrier, constitutes an impediment as contemplated by the amendment.