Proposed FCC Rules Tighten Restrictions on Annoying Robocalls

NEWS ANALYSIS: If adopted, the new rules will place significant restrictions on automatic recorded phone calls as well as those that are autodialed, but have real people standing by to annoy you.

Robo Call Rules 2

In a background briefing on May 27, Federal Communications Commission officials announced a new effort proposed by Chairman Tom Wheeler to virtually eliminate all automatically dialed calls as well as nearly all unsolicited calls to wireless and wireline phones in the United States.

The new rules would give phone owners new power to stop unwanted calls by any reasonable means, including by a verbal request. The old loopholes, including the existence of an established business relationship, are gone.

Also gone are exemptions for political activities and debt collectors. Political pollsters can still call landline phones, and politicians can still discuss issues over landlines, but that appears to be the limit. Political calls to wireless phones are no longer going to be protected. The new rules will also allow wireless phone owners to block incoming text messages of all types.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules June 18, and approval is certain at least by a party-line vote considering how much the public hates robocalls. Then the commission will determine when the new rules will take effect.

The broad new rules proposed by the FCC include a clarification to existing law, including the Title II carriage requirements that makes it clear that the carrier's Title II obligations to deliver calls don't trump the rights of the recipient to choose what they wish to receive. This means that the FCC will make it completely clear that offering call-blocking services is totally legal, Title II notwithstanding.

The FCC's action would not affect the Do Not Call List maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, but instead would extend the protections beyond those covered by the 2003 law that set up the list.

The rules would not prohibit some types of unsolicited calls, including emergency or "Reverse 911" calls from public officials, airline flight notices, calls from pharmacies to remind people to refill their prescriptions, or potential fraud alerts from banks. The exceptions are described in a fact sheet the FCC distributed when it held its briefing.

The fact sheet and the FCC guide to robocalls should be required reading if your company makes phone calls to customers or potential customers in any manner. Once the new order is approved, the rules require you to obtain written consent for any call you make to essentially any phone that's not inside your company.

Furthermore, those old consent forms you had people sign that included something about allowing calls, text messages or emails in the fine print will not pass the sniff test. Regardless of the type of business relationship you may have had, those rules are gone.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...