SMS Campaign Registry – Consumer Protection or Money Grab?
SMS remains one of the most effective tools for marketing. However, with the spreading of mobile phones, users receive loads of SMS spam. The mobile U.S. operators’ recent attempt at SMS regulation tries to change this. The name to it is “the (SMS) Campaign Registry“.
Since 2003 telecom industry has designated five to six-digit shortcodes. These shortcodes serve as A2P (application to person) phone numbers. Their sole purpose was marketing, public safety, and other automated SMS campaigns. Until now, long codes utilized by businesses for SMS were only meant for person-to-person communications. For this reason, they had limited volume throughput and low security requirements.
As of January 20th, 2022, mobile carriers launched a new rule for SMS transmission between ten-digit phone numbers. It applies to SMS messages between mobile and non-mobile (i.e., business VoIP operators) P2P long codes. Mobile operators are going to treat such messages as “message campaigns”. The rule will apply to messages sent from the application to a person (A2P) or between two people (P2P). As with the STIR/SHAKEN initiative to combat call spam, this move is intended to combat junk SMS.
Mobile carriers long saw P2P as an unsanctioned SMS channel for business. Following this logic, they seek authority to ban or throttle them. P2P long codes have low entry barriers. This ease of access allows crafty actors to abuse SMS for spamming purposes.
Significant Changes are Coming to SMS Messaging.
So, what’s in the store? Mobile carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon want all application-to-person (A2P) messaging to utilize approved ten-digit numbers to cut down on SMS spam. A 10DLC or Ten-Digit Long Code is the new standard in North American business SMS. Mobile network providers have sanctioned these numbers for A2P messaging. Now they are available to send SMS from a 10DLC in bulk. Messages sent from 10DLC will cost less than those sent from dedicated shortcodes.
Here is where the Campaign Registry comes in. Businesses wishing to keep using SMS to interact with their clients must register their brands and campaigns.
So, what is this Campaign Registry?
The Campaign Registry, or TCR, is a database that helps combat SMS spam. It does this by helping regulate the sending of SMS messages. As a “reputation authority” for commercial messaging, it tracks ten-digit phone numbers and links them to brands and campaigns.
Campaign Service Providers must register their 10DLC message campaigns with TCR. “Campaign Service Provider” is just a fancy name for non-mobile carriers. VoIP service providers fall in that category.
What Happens if You Don’t Register?
Bad things can happen if you don’t register. The chance of your message delivery will be greatly reduced. Your provider may accept your SMS, but mobile carriers may block it. They may not deliver a message if it falls outside the “trust score” of its stated use case.
You may also pick up a huge fine. A message to someone who did not opt into the list will cost you $500 to $1500. That’s $500 per message! The same is true for people who asked to remove their numbers from the list.
The Road to Hell is Paved with the Good Intentions
Mobile carriers present the registry as a necessary evil. The campaign registry’s job is to certify that the sender is a legitimate firm.
In theory, this should help carriers identify spam, but you will have to forgive my skepticism. The TCR charges the fees for registration and monthly use of the registry. These fees are billed to the Campaign Service Provider. Campaign Service Providers are companies that provide your business VoIP service. The cost depends on their customers’ text messaging volume and the so-called “Use Cases”. These include:
- customer service,
- two-factor authentication,
- notifications and alerts messages
I should also mention polling, voting, and public service announcements.
Mission accomplished? Now VoIP providers will have to pay to warn you of threats. Am I the only one seeing something wrong in this picture? There can only be one source of funding for this. Surely, VoIP operators must pass these new costs on to their clients.
Treading the Line with TCR and New Regulations.
On the one hand, the new ten-digit long code rules present a clear advantage. They allow for higher SMS volumes at lower costs than the shortcodes. There is also a promise of increased throughput and deliverability. Of course, it only applies to messages sent from registered numbers. If well implemented, it will probably, curtail some spam. Campaigns can cultivate more positive engagement for brands and their customers.
On the other hand, there is an argument against it from the perspective of VoIP operators. Many definitions and terms used by the campaign registry are confusing. For example, “Brand,” and “Campaign” are not always relevant. A “brand” could simply be a business trying to stay in touch with its employees. This isn’t a “campaign”.
Take a trucking company, for example. A dispatcher sends SMS messages to drivers with their cargo loads. How is this a “campaign”? With the new mandate, the company will have to define it as a campaign. Then it will pay a monthly fee to do what it was already doing.
TCR seems like a step backward from this perspective.
SMS text messages were a proven, convenient, and low-cost communication channel. The introduction of Campaign Registry may make SMS less attractive. I think that many use cases may not fit the application and its costs. Consequently, SMS might finally lose its appeal. It will become a medium that is not guaranteed to deliver. Registration requirements and fees could drive users to other popular messaging applications.
For all practical purposes, SMS is an outdated system. It allows only 140 characters per message. SMS’s multimedia messaging is its younger brother. The size of MMS is limited to about 2 megabytes. Such payload isn’t enough to send anything meaningful today. With carrier restrictions, sticking to the SMS/MMS channel may no longer be worth it. The ONLY thing going for SMS is its universal acceptance across platforms.
Registration requirement adds a barrier for the communications service providers as well. VoIP providers must ensure that their clients register their brands and campaigns. They will have to facilitate approvals by third-party that does not understand their client’s business model. Some applications will not fit into one of its use cases.
These scenarios leave small businesses uncertain at best. Did their messages reach their intended recipients? If not – then why? Small businesses may not be able to meet the requirement of “Brands” and “Campaigns”.
Businesses are not the only ones questioning this innovation. Political, nonprofit, advocacy groups and labor unions are expressing concern. Will this move hinder their ability to engage with the public?
Finally, there is the issue of spam itself. Nothing in the Campaign Registry prevents spammers from registering campaigns. It is unclear what checks are built in to the new system for preemptive screening. Post-effect penalties won’t help the issue much.
A Way Forward.
We all hope that TCR is a step forward in creating a trusted ecosystem for texting. May it help us reduce spam.
As a communications provider, we must play by the rules. But really, the TCR may be a needless burden on honest small businesses. In the name of combating spam, regular low-volume senders are now facing a new bureaucratic barrier. They will have to comply to do what they were already doing. And pay more for the same service they have been using.
Let’s sum this up. We should gear up for long confirmation periods and paid vetting. Not to mention resources required to comply with the TCR’s standards.
Big telecom companies are playing the regulatory role of the Campaign Registry. They claim that this is the better way to govern the existing SMS ecosystem.
Others feel that TCR is a crutch. Isn’t it time to come up with a genuinely innovative messaging platform? No matter how you look, TCR is a growth barrier to the little guys in the face of big telecoms.
The near future will tell how the Campaign Registry will shape the SMS landscape. The TCR is not a panacea. Its full implications are unclear given the early days. If implemented well, the campaign registry can form a vital part of an old platform. From our position as a small business – this new system seems to be bureaucracy at its finest.
TCR Impact on DLS Customers Using SMS.
DLS will adopt the campaign registry. As of the time of this post, we are still ironing out all the details. Our goal is to connect our software to the campaign registry via API. Each customer using SMS service will be required to register a brand. Each brand will have a related campaign. Please, stay tuned to our newsroom or subscribe to our YouTube channel. There you will find up-to-date information regarding changes to SMS.