Insights & Resources

Everything to Know About the CTIA Messaging Guidelines

Is your business legally compliant? Learn about CTIA messaging guidelines and how they ensure your SMS program stays compliant.

Pete Christianson
CTIA Feature
The CTIA, originally known as the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, is a trade association and nonprofit organization which represents all sectors of wireless communications, cellular, personal communication services. As part of their work in advocacy and research services, the CTIA has established messaging guidelines to help companies stay compliant with local and federal SMS regulations. If you send business SMS messages, you’ve probably heard about the CTIA messaging guidelines. However, a common misconception about the guidelines is that they are regulations.

The CTIA messaging guidelines are actually a set of principles and best practices which rely on voluntary compliance, not legal enforcement. You won’t get fined for failing to follow the CTIA messaging guidelines. However, if you’re not following the CTIA guidelines, you could easily be violating the GDPR or Federal Trade Commission Act, which will get you fined.

Following the CTIA messaging guidelines is a great way to ensure that your SMS program is legally compliant. The CTIA document is a long and dense read. So, here are the highlights and definitions to help you quickly learn what to do.

CTIA Messaging Guidelines Definitions

Consumer (P2P): an individual who subscribes to a wireless messaging service or messaging application. Consumers are not agents of businesses, organizations, or entities that send messages to consumers.

P2P (Person to Person) traffic: a low-volume of messages sent between end-users.

Non-Consumer (A2P): agents of businesses, organizations, and entities that send messages to consumers. This includes businesses of all sizes, non-profit organizations, political campaigns, financial institutions, medical practices, schools, and customer service entities. Virtually all business SMS applications are considered A2P messages.

A2P (Application to Consumer): Since most organizations use applications to send messages to consumers, all message traffic that is not consistent with human operation in terms of message volume, the number of recipients, and the ratio of ingoing to outgoing messages is considered A2P traffic.

SMS (Short Messaging Service): SMS is used for sending text-only messages over cellular networks.

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service): MMS is used for sending text, images, and video over cellular networks. MMS messages can include only text. But, MMS is most efficient for sending images and video.

RCS (Rich Communications Service): RCS is an advanced SMS protocol that is capable of sending high-resolution photos and files, processing payments, location sharing, video calls, and other high-data operations.

The CTIA messaging guidelines are intended to guide messaging activity for using SMS, MMS, RCS for both P2P and A2P. Understanding these definitions will help make sure you're making the right decisions for your business communications.

CTIA Principles and Best Practices

The CTIA messaging guidelines are generally straightforward and easy to follow. The biggest change in the new guidelines is that some traffic that was previously considered P2P is now classified as A2P. And, the CTIA principles and best practices focus primarily on A2P traffic.

Overall, the new approach to A2P is a consent-based approach. These are the best practices for consent-based A2P messaging:
  • Always gather a consumer’s consent before you send messages.
  • Get written consent before sending marketing messages. Written consent is not necessary for relevant communication like shipping updates (though consent is still required).
  • Always give consumers an easy way to stop receiving messages.
The CTIA recommends obtaining consent through automated mechanisms to improve the end-user experience and ensure that consent is always obtained before sending A2P messages. Recommended consent mechanisms include:
  • Online consent collection forms.
  • One-click opt-in buttons on web pages. This is usually a checkbox on subscribe or check-out pages where a phone number is collected.
  • Sending an opt-in message to consumer mobile devices. Most opt-in messages require the recipient to do nothing to keep receiving messages, and to text a stop word (like STOP) to opt-out of receiving messages.
  • Phone opt-in using interactive voice response (IVR) technology.

    The recommended opt-in mechanisms are designed to help you get consent when you collect a consumer’s phone number. This minimizes the possibility of sending unsolicited messages.

    In terms of what numbers you should use for sending A2P messages, the CTIA recommends that you use standard messaging numbers:

  • Short code numbers. Short code numbers are perfect for sending SMS and MMS messages. However, they’re not ideal for RCS activities.
  • Toll-free numbers. Toll free numbers are ideal for getting consumers to respond to your texts. People feel more comfortable texting a toll-free number because they know they won’t get charged for it.
  • 10DLC numbers. 10DLC numbers are ideal when you want to use geomatching to send from a phone number that matches the recipient’s area code.

    The biggest thing in the CTIA messaging guidelines is getting consumer consent before you send messages. It’s consistent with consumer data protection regulations. And, it helps you provide the best end-user experience and avoid being perceived as spammy message sender.

    So, following the CTIA messaging guidelines protects the end-user and your reputation as an SMS sender. Additionally, if you follow these best practices, you’ll almost always be in compliance with data protection laws. For more detailed information and best practices on how to stay compliant with GDPR, TCPA and PIPEDA, talk to an expert.

    If you’re ready to create an SMS program that follows the CTIA guidelines, check out Telnyx Programmable SMS or head over to our Mission Control Portal to get started.
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