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RCS Messaging – Does the TCPA Apply?


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As brands look for new ways to reach their customers, many are flocking to rich communication services, or RCS. But there’s a lack of clarity surrounding if and how the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)—which at the very least requires customers to opt in to receive messages from a brand—applies to RCS. The FCC has yet to rule whether RCS falls under the umbrella of the TCPA, and a decision isn’t expected to come any time soon. 


What is RCS Messaging?

RCS is an innovative mobile messaging protocol similar to text messaging but with a more robust set of features, such as custom colors, branded icons, verified sending, quick replies, and high-definition images and videos. With RCS messaging, brands can send full-width, rich media content, perfect for mobile coupons, boarding passes, loyalty cards, and event tickets. 

RCS messages appear in a consumer’s text app on their cell phone, the same as SMS and MMS. This is an exciting development for brands, which are already taking advantage of text message marketing. On average, 83 percent of SMS messages are read by recipients within 90 seconds and 90 percent within three minutes. Also impressive is that SMS messages have a 99 percent open rate compared to the 20 percent open rate these messages get on email. 

Add RCS messaging, and engagement may look even better. Brands using RCS can communicate with the consumer through added functionality and features, allowing these messages to function more like an app without the added step of opening another app.


What Are the Differences and Similarities between SMS, MMS, and RCS?

Brands use SMS and MMS to send messages to consumers’ phones using the cellular network. These types of messages don’t require a device with mobile data or Wi-Fi service. SMS, or short message service, is limited to text, links, and emojis. MMS, or multimedia messaging service, can transmit images, videos, gifs, subject lines, links, and audio files in addition to text. RCS, made available in 2016, can include photos and videos, can be location-based, and has even more functionality than MMS. RCS looks and functions more like a chat bot than traditional SMS or MMS messages. But since RCS uses Wi-Fi or mobile data instead of the cellular network, it’s technically not a phone call. 

The greatest and most advantageous similarity among the three is that RCS messages appear in the same text message app as SMS and MMS. Brands really like that (recall the text message open rates discussed earlier).


How Will the FCC Rule on RCS and the TCPA?

The TCPA was enacted in 1991, primarily to protect consumers besieged by telemarketers and robocalls. The original law specifies phone calls and fax messages. Three decades later, messaging has become a significant part of the communication landscape. As a result of that changing landscape, the FCC ruled that a text message is a phone call and expanded the TCPA umbrella to cover SMS and MMS.

However, RCS is a newer technology, and the FCC hasn’t yet ruled on whether the TCPA applies to it.

Before we can ponder how the FCC will rule, we need to consider when the FCC will rule—and the answer is “not soon.” The FCC prefers to watch new technologies as they evolve in the marketplace. We can expect the same with RCS. The FCC is unlikely to decide unless a company petitions it, and arriving at a decision will still take considerable time. 

How the FCC will rule is a toss-up too. While the protocols surrounding RCS technology differ from SMS and MMS, the fact is that consumers receive RCS messages on the native app alongside SMS and MMS messages. This makes for a compelling argument that the same rules should apply.


What Happens with RCS in the Meantime?

It’s safest for brands to assume that the TCPA will apply, and they should plan their tactics and strategies based on that assumption. Therefore, brands should get into the habit of ensuring their recipients opted in to receive marketing messages, including RCS messages. 


Interested in RCS Messaging?

Tatango has been an active player in the text message marketing industry for more than 13 years. In that time, we’ve been tracking the growing influence and continuous developments of RCS messaging features, and we believe it’s the perfect time for brands to try this innovative new mobile messaging protocol. Contact our experts today to find out more about RCS messaging and TCPA compliance.

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