You hate getting robocalls. The FCC knows you hate getting robocalls. And so today the Commission voted to move forward with a proposal that would allow consumers to block all those annoying calls and texts.
The commissioners were agreed on one major theme: seriously, everyone hates getting calls from “Rachel at card services” during their family dinner hour. Outside of that, reactions were less universal, and individual commissioners each presented a mixed bag of affirmations and dissents. Despite the varying perspectives from all present, the vote moved through 3-2 along party lines, as predicted.
The discussion of the robocall proceeding delved heavily into the legal technicalities surrounding the definitions of autodialers and what, exactly, is covered under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Specifically, however, the FCC staff presenting the report concluded that wireline and wireless carriers, as well as VOIP providers, are free to provide consumers with services and technologies to block unwanted robocalls.
The order also specifies that consumers who had previously consented to robocalls could withdraw that consent at any time and “through any reasonable means.”
Speaking in favor of the proposal, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out that the FCC receives more complaints about robocalls than about any other issue.
“We receive thousands of complaints, and our friends across town at the FTC received tens of thousands more,” Rosenworcel said, “at one point receiving nearly 200,000 in a single month.”
“It is time, long past time to do something about this.”
Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly focused on potential harm to businesses who might get slapped back after “erroneously” contacting customers who had withdrawn their consent, or who received numbers that were reassigned from previous users.
Pai, like Rosenworcel, pointed to the extraordinary volume of robocall complaints, specifying that last year the FCC received 96,288 reports. He also pointed to the sheer number of deceptive robocalls made, specifically, by scam artists targeting senior citizens.
However, Pai mainly concentrated on inefficiencies and perverse incentives in the existing legal structure, describing cases where the TCPA has “strayed beyond its original purpose,” and pointing out that the FCC could use its existing mechanisms to close loopholes and shut down scammers while protecting businesses’ rights to contact consumers.
“The primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not American consumers” Pai concluded, spinning a theoretical tale of a potential guy getting slammed with a TCPA suit for texting a girl who doesn’t particularly want to hear from him.
O’Rielly, as usual, objected strenuously to the entire procedure and, in fact, the commission overall. “After 14 months working on this issue it is clear the process brought out a new low I’ve never seen in politics or policy making, which is saying something,” said O’Rielly, who earlier this year likened municipal broadband to the destruction of capitalism itself.
Instead, O’Rielly called for Congress to take action, if action is needed, and for the FCC to step back from a plan that “will lead to more litigation that places burdens on legitimate businesses without protecting consumers from robocalls made by bad actors.”
Chairman Tom Wheeler concluded the proceeding by pointing out that the problem is exacerbated by vague or outdated wording in the FCC’s own existing rule.
“Technology has made it cheaper, and as a result there’s been an explosion in the number of calls — an explosion which has been aided by exploiting the wording of our rules to claim a loophole. Clever lawyers have [spurred] the explosion in robocalls by claiming if the company substitutes sofware for hardware to drive the calls and/or does not call from a list, they are exempt from our rules.”
“There is a simple concept in the statute that we embrace today,” Wheeler concluded: “You cannot be called unless you consent to be called. The consumer should be in control.”
“Listening to Congress, the American people, the message is clear: no unauthorized, automated calls. Stop it, and stop today.”