SMS Compliance Information

Now that you are ready to start your SMS program, it is important to understand compliance and permissions for ongoing SMS messaging. Review the following documents for SMS campaign in the United States to help you and your legal teams understand what is required in order to make your SMS campaigns compliant. Each country has its own compliance requirements and if you need additional details, please contact Client Support.

Important Resources

The Mobile Marketing Association is the leading global non-profit trade association that is established to foster growth of all areas of mobile marketing. The MMA's stated goals are to clear obstacles to market development, establish mobile media guidelines and best practices for sustainable growth, as well as evangelize the use of mobile media.

Download a PDF of the MMA SMS Best Practices. This is the trade group that represents a wide variety of interests on behalf of telecom carriers, manufacturers, consultants, vendors, and other members of the wireless industry.

Click a link to go to the CTIA website where you can view information about the wireless industry.

Download the handbook here.

The TCPA was passed into law in 1991. The FCC is empowered to issue rules and regulations that is needed to implement the TCPA. Among other things, the TCPA allows individuals to file lawsuits and collect damages for receiving unsolicited telemarketing calls, faxes, pre-recorded calls, or auto-dialed calls.

SMS text messages to cell phones are considered "calls" under the TCPA, if they are transmitted for marketing purposes. The TCPA was interpreted in recent years to prohibit the sending of unsolicited commercial text messages to cell phones - with limited exceptions (that is, messages sent for emergency purposes).

What is the difference between the TCPA and CTIA guidelines?

The following list contains Free to End User (FTEU) compliance guidelines. In short, FTEU is not a way to avoid the compliance framework of standard messaging.

  • (FTEU) does not give the right to send unsolicited messages - still held to TCPA, CTIA and carrier standards. Also, it does not give marketers the right to send content otherwise not supported by carriers (i.e., past due notices/debt collection on VZW).
  • The only USA carriers that support FTEU are VZW, Sprint, TMobile, AT&T, and US Cellular.
  • A call-to-action must include: Program sponsor, description of program, customer support information, opt-out information, message frequency, terms, and privacy.
  • Terms would be same as standard rate short code terms and conditions (unless carriers are supported that don't have FTEU, that would need to be explained by carrier - (i.e. "Msg and Data Rates apply on the following carriers: ____").
  • User must opt-in.
  • Confirmation MT must include "free msg", a service description (brand/type of message), help and stop information, message frequency.
  • Content MTs must include "free msg" (could be 'Free XYZ corp msg' or something similar).
  • STOP must opt out the user and a response should include that the user will not receive more messages.
  • HELP must include the brand sponsor, description of program content (for example, bank balance alerts, password verification, and so on), contact information, and STOP information.

Best Practices for SMS Compliance

If you remember the following points, it is unlikely that you will have any problems with carriers or compliance issues and very likely that you will have successful text messaging campaigns and happy customers:

  1. Build a compliant database.
  2. Document and save program opt-ins and messaging permissions.
  3. Clearly communicate what people are signing up for (content, frequency, etc.) up-front to ensure customer satisfaction.
  4. Add your text marketing privacy policy to your website for easy access by program participants.
  5. Use multimedia for better customer engagement and action.
  6. Work with your legal team to ensure your program offerings are legally compliant.
  7. Only send message to legally obtained opted-in numbers.
  8. Follow through on your promise and send what you said you would send to your customers.
  9. Follow laws for marketing based around alcohol, tobacco, and marketing directed towards children under 13.


This information summarizes and contains IBM's interpretation of SMS compliance. It is an interpretation and not legal or compliance advice and in no case can be relied upon as binding advice from IBM®. IBM Knowledge Center articles do not constitute legal advice and you may not rely on them. All customers are contractually responsible for their own compliance and must work with their legal counsel accordingly.