FCC Seeking Further Consumer Phone Protection


SmartphoneComplaints about unwanted robocalls, telemarketing calls and texts to cellphones are the #1 complaint received by the FCC – it received 215,000 complaints in 2014 along. And FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposes to do something about it.

He noted that many of the complaints are from consumers who were assigned a phone number that previously belonged to a person who agreed to allow marketing calls.

Wheeler also hopes to extend protections to cell phone users. He noted that as of January 2014, 90% of consumers had a cell phone and during the year 44% of American households relied exclusively on cell service.

The proposals will be presented and voted on at the FCC’s June Open Meeting, to be held Thursday 6/18/15.

Here are the proposed remedies:

* Empower Consumers to Say ‘Stop’ – Consumers would have the right to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time. (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

* Give Green Light for ‘Do Not Disturb’ Technology – Carriers could offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers.  It would give the go-ahead for carriers to implement market-based solutions that consumers could use to stop unwanted robocalls. (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

* Make Clear Reassigned Numbers Aren’t Loopholes – Consumers who inherit a phone number would not be subject to a barrage of unwanted robocalls to which a previous subscriber of the number consented.  If a phone number has been reassigned, callers must stop calling the number after one call.   (Applies to wireless and landline home service.)

* Define an Autodialer – An “autodialer” is any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers.  The rulings would ensure robocallers cannot skirt consumer consent requirements through changes in calling technology design or by calling from a list of numbers.  (Applies to wireless.)

* Allow Very Limited and Specific Exceptions for Urgent Circumstances – Free calls or texts to, for example, alert consumers to possible fraud on their bank accounts or remind them of important medication refills would be allowed.  The proposal is very clear about what such messages can be and what they cannot be (i.e., no marketing or debt collection).  In addition, consumers would have the ability to opt out of even these permitted calls and texts.  (Applies to wireless.)

* Affirm Consumers’ Rights – Through these rulings, the Commission would confirm consumers’ ultimate right to control the calls they receive.
Existing protections, including the following, would remain in place:

* The Do-Not-Call List – The National Do Not Call Registry was established in 2003 by the FCC and the FTC. Authorized by the TCPA, the registry is a list of self-identified call recipients who may not receive telemarketing calls. It is administered by the FTC and would be unchanged by this proposal.

* Limits on Telemarketing Robocalls – Both wireless and landline home phones are protected against telemarketing robocalls made without prior written consent from the recipient.

* Limits on Informational Calls and Texts to Cell Phones – Under the TCPA, autodialed and prerecorded calls and texts to wireless phones require prior consent, whether they are telemarketing or informational calls.  This includes calls related to debt collection.  The Chairman’s proposal clarifies and reiterates these strong consumer protections.  Informational calls to landline home phones are not restricted under the law.

* No Exception for Political Calls – Political calls to wireless phones are subject to the general restrictions on prerecorded and artificial voice calls as well as autodialed calls. Political calls are not subject to the National Do-Not-Call Registry because such calls do not include telephone solicitations.

* Strong Enforcement – Congress gave consumers a private right of action against callers that violate the TCPA.  The Commission has also enforced the rules through its Enforcement Bureau, including almost $450,000 in forfeitures this year and a $2.9 million fine last year.  Consumer complaints are received and analyzed by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and are essential in helping the Enforcement Bureau detect trends that may be appropriate for enforcement action.