FCC to Vote on Anti-Robocall, Text Proposal at June 18 Open Meeting

The Telecommunications Law Resource Center is the most comprehensive reference and news platform for communications law, covering broadcasting, cable, broadband, telephony and wireless;...

By Brandon Ross

May 26 — The FCC will vote at its June 18 open meeting on a proposal aimed at curbing the number of automated calls and automated texts consumers receive on their wireless and wireline phones, the agency said.

Plans for the vote were disclosed in a May 27 fact sheet detailing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal on reducing the unwanted automated calls and texts. Wheeler circulated the proposal to the other four FCC commissioners on May 27, the fact sheet said.

Unsolicited automated messages, often called robocalls, can be annoying to consumers but also can be used to alert consumers to fraudulent activity, the American Bankers Association previously told the FCC. In February, consumer and industry groups urged the FCC to address the tsunami of class-action lawsuits in the courts over the automated calls and texts, citing a lack of clarity in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) as a driver for the suits.

“The Chairman is proposing a set of actions that, if adopted, will close loopholes and strengthen consumer protections already on the books—one of the most significant FCC consumer protection actions since it established the Do-Not-Call Registry with the FTC in 2003,” the fact sheet said. “The proposal addresses two dozen petitions that sought clarity on how the Commission enforces the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) issued a press release after the FCC announcement expressing concern that the proposal might cause the opposite of the intended effect.

“I remain concerned that the proposed exemptions to the TCPA will result in an increase in unwanted calls and texts to consumers without their consent,” Markey said in the May 27 release. “I look forward to learning all of the details of the proposal in order to ensure that any exceptions to TCPA rules are designed to protect consumers.”

Among the many provisions mentioned, there will be an exception to TCPA laws—which are meant to forbid unwanted automated correspondence to consumers—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).” Under the new proposal, consumers can opt out of those types of messages, the fact sheet said.

Carriers Can Implement Blocking Tech

Under the new proposal, wireless and wireline phone carriers could offer robocall-blocking technologies to subscribers, the fact sheet said.

“It would give the go-ahead for carriers to implement market-based solutions that consumers could use to stop unwanted robocalls,” the fact sheet said.

CTIA—The Wireless Association said it is still reviewing Wheeler's proposals.

“[W]e remain committed to working with all interested parties to help protect consumers while preserving choice and promoting innovation throughout the wireless ecosystem,” Scott Bergmann, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs said in a May 27 press release following the FCC announcement. “Collectively through CTIA as well as individually, wireless companies have sought to empower customers, through education and the development of tools to block fraudulent and unwanted communications. There are a variety of apps and features available to consumers today, many for free, to help stop robocalls and other annoying or fraudulent activity.”

The unwanted correspondence ranks as a high priority for consumers, the FCC fact sheet said.

“Unwanted calls and texts are the number one consumer complaint to the FCC,” the fact sheet said. “The FCC received more than 215,000 TCPA complaints in 2014.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

The full FCC fact sheet with an extensive list of proposals is available here: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sfre-9wwsfd