Just about everyone hates receiving calls from telemarketers, political campaigns, and debt collectors. In 1991, the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act was put in place, with protections to help reduce the onslaught. In 2003, the National Do Not Call Registry was launched, aimed at letting consumers have some control over who calls their phone number.
Now, the Federal Communications Commission is considering a new question involving telecommunications and consumer privacy: whether the TCPA applies to ringless voice mail — a service that delivers messages directly to mobile phones’ voice mailboxes.
Because the technology is relatively new, there has not been a specific ruling about whether it is acceptable under the TCPA, leaving the companies that sell and use the services in legal limbo.
All About the Message, a ringless voice mail company, has asked the FCC to declare that existing regulations do not apply to the service.
Consumer advocacy groups, legal aid organizations, and many private citizens argue that these messages constitute the same kind of unwanted intrusion as traditional spam calls and could fill mailboxes, blocking people from receiving messages they actually want to receive.
“The technology is essentially a perverted use of the standard voicemail system,” the National Consumer Law Center argues in documents filed with the FCC on behalf of a group of 15 consumer and legal aid groups.
Ringless voice mail providers, business groups, student loan servicers, and political groups maintain that the messages should be permitted because, technically, they are not “calls” and incur no charge for the recipient.
The technology “does not result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer’s life — dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times, or delivery charges to consumers — which the TCPA was designed to prevent,” the petition argues.
Without an explicit FCC ruling, All About the Message says, ringless voice mail providers and their customers risk facing class-action lawsuits that could be financially disastrous.
The FCC is accepting comments until June 2, so there’s an opportunity for consumers to be heard on what they want to hear. Whether you believe these messages are an unconscionable intrusion on your privacy, or an unobtrusive way for businesses to get the word out, let the FCC know how you feel. Submitting comments is easy: Go to www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express, enter 02-278 in the field for “Proceeding(s),” and type your comments at the bottom of the page.
Have a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at email@example.com.