The Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules Thursday to help prevent the loss of access to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in the case of an outage. Image courtesy of the Federal Communications Commission
Jan. 26 (UPI) -- The Federal Communications Commission proposed new rules Thursday to help prevent the loss of access to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in the case of an outage.
On Dec. 1, the 988 hotline experienced a nationwide outage affecting all calls for several hours, leaving people in mental health crises without a valuable resource.
The FCC's new rule establishes a protocol for reporting and resolving outages that last 30 minutes or longer. Service providers will be required to report any outage that could affect access to the hotline to the FCC as they would for 911 access.
Outages also must be reported to the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.
Outages must be reported if they affect the ability of the hotline to receive, process or forward calls for 30 minutes.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act was signed into law in October 2020, laying the groundwork for the 988 Lifeline. In July, the FCC began requiring service providers to provide access to the line. Since that time, it has received more than 2 million calls and messages.
The 988 Lifeline is available by call, text and its website. It is open for anyone to call if they are experiencing a mental-health crisis or suicidal ideation. It covers all of the United States, as well as five U.S. territories: American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The FCC is seeking feedback on additional steps it may take to ensure access to its critical mental health service, including whether other service providers such as wireless, satellite and cable providers should adhere to the new reporting rules.
Also on Thursday in another matter related to FCC oversight of health services communications, the FCC proposed plans to provide better access to healthcare in rural areas with its Rural Health Care Program.
The program provides access to virtual and remote healthcare services such as telehealth. The new proposals would make it easier for patients to access such healthcare and for providers to receive program funding.
"Reliable high speed connectivity is critical for rural health care providers to serve patients in rural areas that often have limited resources, fewer doctors, and higher rates for broadband and telecommunications services than urban areas," the proposal reads.