In the midst of a widely publicized battle against illegal robocalls, Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly is pushing for “clear and rational” reforms to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to ensure legal automated calls aren’t being blocked as well.
Passed in 1991, the TCPA was passed to help protect consumers from abusive calling practices. But in addition to filtering out illegal robocalls, O’Rielly said recent applications of TCPA regulations have blocked legitimate businesses from contacting consumers.
“It is increasingly common to hear all automated calls lumped together and branded as harmful or a nuisance. I know from personal experience that is not the case, and the Commission too has recognized this by carving out particular types of automated calls or texts for special treatment,” O’Rielly said in comments delivered at the ACA International’s Washington Insights Conference this week.
But according to O’Rielly, the FCC’s focus in providing “the narrowest possible relief” for these legitimate callers has left many “out in the cold.” The rules, he said, “must be revamped” and brought back in line with the intentions of the original statute.
“The Commission should focus on actual instances of harm and stopping companies that are truly bad actors,” O’Rielly said. “The prior Commission and some courts have taken the position that simply receiving a couple of stray calls or voicemails constitutes a real harm that can subject well-intentioned companies to liability … This approach is completely wrongheaded and does not actually protect consumers.”
But O’Rielly noted changes to the rules will not be easy. He warned that the process will likely include “hysterical” backlash and “claims about the harms that will come to consumers.” To help push forward with reforms, he said, legitimate companies and associations will need to band together to demonstrate how they’re already fighting unwanted calls and clarify the benefits of being able to contact consumers.
O’Rielly’s comments come in the context of amplified efforts from an industry-led “Robocall Task Force” and the FCC to combat spam calls.
In March, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would give voice operators more latitude to protect subscribers from illegal robocalls. The FCC said it is seeking public comment on the measure, which would codify the “Do-Not-Originate” initiative proposed by the commission. That provision allows carriers to block calls from an originating number at the request of a subscriber and block spoofed caller ID numbers associated with phone lines that do not actually dial out. The commission said a test of the concept reduced IRS scam calls by about 90 percent in the third quarter of 2016.
Filed Under: Industry regulations