Telemarketers, debt collectors, and other companies that engage in mass telephone outreach are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, finding new ways to reach consumers as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Companies that began with robocalling, or auto-dialer technology that enables businesses to program computers to place millions of calls at a low cost, have now adopted a new strategy with ringless voicemails. Consumers who receive this type of contact will find a voicemail on their phone without their phone ever actually ringing.
Where does this new tactic fit in with existing regulations of automatic dialing systems?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA, was signed into law in 1991 as a means of governing the use of automatic dialing systems, pre-recorded messages, text messages, and fax machines. It also requires that the caller identify himself and get permission from consumers prior to contacting them.
The TCPA has protected consumers from annoying, inconvenient, and unwanted calls and has created an avenue for consumer legal action when companies don’t comply. Under the law, recipients of frequent unwanted calls can receive between $500 to $1500 per violating call. Consumers have also turned to the Do Not Call registry to seek relief from this type of contact, although some news outlets note that the registry’s effectiveness has started to dwindle in recent years.
Lawmakers are now debating whether new ringless voicemail technology falls under the jurisdiction of the TCPA, or if this type of contact is protected by First Amendment rights.
Many Republicans have taken the stance that ringless voicemails should be legal under the First Amendment. The Republican National Committee (RNC) argued that it has a First Amendment right to use ringless voicemails to solicit donations and to inform voters about certain issues relating to politics and government.
Democrats disagree. Democratic Senators from various states recently signed a petition addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in part stating the following:
"While technology has changed, that key goal has not. Whether by robocall, by robotext, or by ringless voicemail, consumers should have meaningful control over who can and cannot contact their mobile device."
Write to Your Representatives
What do you think about the use of ringless voicemails? Write to your representatives to express your opinion and explain how you would be affected if they are not considered applicable under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
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