The FCC is ready to rule on long-standing petitions seeking clarifications of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and related FCC regulations. On May 27, 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a proposed regulatory ruling to fellow commissioners, which would address issues raised in more than 20 pending petitions. The fact sheet summarizing the chairman’s proposal foreshadows bad news for legitimate businesses using automatic telephone dialing technology.
The fact sheet lumps scammer calls like those from perky “Rachel” of the mysterious and ambiguous “Cardholder Services” with those from legitimate businesses. The fact sheet cites the 214,000 consumer complaints about robocalls. No breakdown is given as to how many of these complaints involved con artists and how many related to businesses calling, for example, to collect debt. The tone of the fact sheet provides no comfort. Its preamble states the plan is to “close loopholes and strengthen consumer protections.”
The FCC will vote on the new proposal during its Open Commission Meeting scheduled for June 18, 2015. In the meantime, companies using automatic telephone dialing technology should plan to take action to comply with whatever comes from the FCC. There will be no notice and comment period and whatever passes at the Open Commission Meeting will become effective immediately upon release.
If Chairman Wheeler’s proposals are adopted without changes, the new rules will provide:
Existing Provisions Under TCPA
Chairman Wheeler’s proposal also provides for some very limited and specific exceptions for “urgent circumstances,” which may include free calls or text messages to wireless devices that alert consumers of potential fraud or that remind them of urgent medication refills. Consumers will still have an opportunity to opt-out of these types of calls and texts.
If adopted, the new regulations may significantly restrict the use of autodialing technologies by business. However, the devil will be in the details. Organizations should review the owners’ manual that came with their dialer. What can it actually do? In other words, what is its present and future capacity? Have those answers ready so you can act when the FCC rules. Companies should also have proper processes and systems in place to meet the consumer opt-out requirements of any new regulations. Policies should address steps to take when a called party claims that the number called no longer belongs to your intended recipient.
One thing is certain about these new rules, they will not stop scammers who use spoofed caller IDs and originate calls from outside of the United States and, therefore, outside of the jurisdiction of the FCC and/or FTC. They will just make to harder and more expensive for legitimate businesses to reach their customers.
Additional information on the TCPA may be found on Foley's Consumer Financial Services Bulletin blog.
Legal News Alert is part of our ongoing commitment to providing up-to-the-minute information about pressing concerns or industry issues affecting our clients and our colleagues. If you have any questions about this update or would like to discuss this topic further, please contact your Foley attorney or the following:
Michael C. Lueder
Chanley T. Howell
Steven M. Millendorf
San Diego, California