It’s no secret that political campaigns made millions of automated calls during the run-up to the 2012 elections. Many individuals received dozens of such calls every day. Being on the do-not-call list didn’t help.
Sadly, political robocalls are legal to landline phones as long as the caller is properly identified at the beginning of the call and as long as the caller doesn’t seize the line (meaning making it impossible to disconnect the call). But what’s not legal is to call cell phones, emergency phones, phones in hospitals or nursing homes or other exceptions that the FCC has outlined in its rules.
Two companies, Dialing Services LLC from Roswell, N.M., and Richard Gilmore DBA Democratic Dialing from Aurora, Colo., have been charged with making millions of prohibited robocalls during the 2012 election season. If the two companies were to be fined the full amount allowed by law, the fines would total nearly $100 billion (yes, that’s with a "B").
The robocalls that the two companies made were to cell phones in the United States. FCC rules prohibit calling cell phones without express permission from the owner of the cell phone. In addition, the caller has to state at the beginning of the call who they are, and where they can be reached. They’re also not allowed to spoof the Caller ID number.
The FCC compared the numbers that were called against commercially available lists of cell phone numbers, and in the case of Dialing Services found 4.7 million prohibited calls. The agency did the same thing with Democratic Dialing and found 1.1 million prohibited calls. FCC investigators called some of the people with the cell phone numbers that were called by the dialing services and were told, often forcefully, that the dialing companies did not have permission to call their cell phones. (The quotes in the FCC citations are graphic).
The way these citations work is that the dubious dialers are ordered to stop such calls immediately and they’re warned that if they violate the rules in any way, even by making one more prohibited call, they can be fined for that violation, and for all of the violations in the past. Dialing Services’ 4.7 million prohibited calls could be assessed at the FCC’s maximum fine of $16,000 per call. That’s more than $75 billion. Democratic Dialing would have a comparatively light fine of a mere $17.6 billion.
So does this mean that you’re going to stop getting political robocalls on your cell phone? Or does it mean that those ubiquitous calls about your car’s warranty or the company that calls itself Card Services are going to stop? Probably not.