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.
Proposed FCC Rules Tighten Restrictions on Annoying Robocalls
You will need to get specific written permission from each person you may want to make contact with and be aware that your established contacts can rescind that permission any time they decide to. Equally important, the FCC intends to add some significant penalties to discourage such calls, and they plan to levy those penalties aggressively on anyone who breaks the rules.
Also gone is the ability to call someone based on someone else’s permission. Notable examples that were given in today’s FCC briefing included a recounting of a person who received hundreds of calls from a debt collector because they were listed as an alternative contact on someone else’s loan application.
If you’re one of those companies that outsource calls to call centers outside the United States, the FCC can still come after you if you are operating in the United States, and the phone companies now have full permission to block those calls.
For most companies, however, this is good news. You’re not prohibited from staying in touch with customers; you just have to follow the rules. This will mean that your customers will be far less harassed by calls they don’t want and that could mean they’ll have the time and patience to actually talk to you.
In addition, you and your employees won’t be constantly harassed by people offering everything from dubious attempts to lend you money, even if you have “little or no credit,” because you run a business—or to offer you insurance, Google listing services or any of the other dozens of weird offers that come out of the woodwork on a daily basis.
Speaking as a business owner, these new rules offer a chance at welcome relief. What I’ve noticed is that the companies I want to do business with never employ robocalls, make unsolicited calls or send unwanted text messages to my cell phone. They use advertising that I can look at when I’m ready to think about whatever it is that they’re selling. Or they send letters. Perhaps this new FCC rule will be a boon to the struggling U.S. Postal Service.
It’s the bogus businesses, like the robot named “Jessica” that promises to give me a “breakthrough” in my search engine results, who only calls when I’m on deadline for my eWEEK column. Perhaps, I’ll no longer have to think about terminating the robot with an RJ-11 connector.
Am I ready for more limits on robocalls? You have no idea.