Legislation would increase robocalls

WASHINGTON — Comments are due Thursday, June 28, to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding an inquiry that will determine the fate of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)’s protections against robocalls and robotexts to cell phones.

The Consumer Bankers Association, on behalf of its members, including Ohio-based Fifth Third Bank, Huntington Bank and Key Bank, has urged the FCC to effectively unravel the TCPA, opening the floodgates to unwanted robocalls and texts.

“The Telephone Consumer Protection Act exists to protect consumers’ privacy rights by limiting unwanted and invasive robocalls,” said Margot Saunders, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “Consumers need to tell the FCC not to leave them powerless in their efforts to end the deluge of robocalls.”

The three main questions on which the FCC has requested comment are as follows:

• The definition of “autodialer” (technically known as an automatic telephone dialing system).

Under current law, autodialed calls and texts are allowed only if the consumer consents to receive them. Without a broad definition of autodialer, consumers will be unable to stop these calls. The Consumer Bankers Association and others have asked the FCC to narrow the “autodialer” definition in a way which would allow devices to flood consumers with invasive phone calls.

“Industry lobbyists want the FCC to define autodialer so narrowly that virtually nothing will be considered an autodialer,” said Saunders.

• The right to revoke consent.

In 2015, the FCC ruled that a consumer who has consented to receive robocalls has the right to revoke that consent. But now large businesses and their lobbyists are asking the FCC to back away from that position. Industry lobbyists are also asking the FCC to rule that, if consent to receive robocalls is part of the fine print of a contract, it can never be revoked.

• Wrong number calls.

Industry lobbyists want the FCC to allow robocallers to call wrong numbers with impunity, as long as someone to whom that phone number was once assigned consented to receive robocalls, The Consumer Bankers Association, among others, argues that the intended recipient of the call should have the right to revoke consent.

“Put simply, if the caller is calling for Michael and I inform them I am not Michael and ask them to stop calling, the caller could continue making the calls because consent had not been revoked by Michael,” added Saunders. “It creates a scenario in which it becomes impossible to revoke consent.”

According to the call-blocking app, YouMail’s Robocall Index, more than 136 million robocalls were made to Ohio numbers in the month of May alone, the highest one-month total on record. Capital One, Citibank and Spectrum were among the top sources of robocalls.

As the number of calls soars, lawsuits holding robocallers accountable remain few and far between. In 2017, a year that saw an estimated 30 billion robocalls, just 4,392 lawsuits were filed against robocallers. This represents a 9 percent decrease from 2016 and provides a direct contradiction to the repeated attempts to justify weakening the TCPA by claiming the vital consumer protection law leads to frivolous lawsuits.

To file comments with the FCC, go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/ and direct comments to docket number 02-278.

For information, including tips for consumers to reduce robocalls, visit NCLC’s Robocalls & Telemarketing page.