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By Lydia Beyoud
July 15 — Robocalls to collect federally-backed student loan or mortgage debt would be exempt from penalties under federal consumer protection law under a final rule circulated by the Federal Communications Commission, the agency confirmed July 15.
The rule will have a major impact on collections companies such as Navient Inc. and Nelnet Inc., two of the largest collections companies servicing student loans on behalf of the federal government. They have been pushing the FCC to expand the exemption, against opposition from the Federal Trade Commission and consumer groups.
The agency circulated the final rule late July 14. It will have to move quickly to vote on the rule by an Aug. 2 statutory deadline.
Details of the final draft text weren't immediately available. However, an FCC spokesman told Bloomberg BNA via e-mail that the proposal “includes the right of consumers to stop unwanted calls, limits on who can be called, and limits to the number of caller per month.”
The FCC has previously indicated it would try to strike a balance between consumer protection and a congressional directive slipped into the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 to allow third-party companies servicing debt issued by the government to avoid penalties under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 if they use an automated device to call or text individuals about their loans.
Congress was also active on the subject July 15. The chairman and a senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee sent a letter to CTIA, the largest U.S. wireless trade association, asking how wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US Inc. can prevent unwanted robocalls and texts.
“Wireless carriers are positioned to play an important role in further curtailing disruptive calls” after the Federal Communications Commission gave them authority in 2015 to offer robocall- and robotext-blocking technologies, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said.
Some of the unwanted robocalls are the result of consumers changing their phone numbers, the lawmakers said.
Thune and Markey asked CTIA to tell them whether wireless companies could compile and maintain a reassigned numbers database.
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