FCC moves to shut down 'ringless voicemail' robocalls

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If the agency doesn’t get its wish, consumers could continue to be bombarded with voicemails

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to try making life more difficult for robocallers. In a new proposal, the agency wants to make it a requirement for robocallers to get consumers' permission before delivering a “ringless voicemail” -- a message left in a voicemail without a person's phone receiving a call.

The FCC is not giving up on full implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which protects consumers from unwanted robocalls, among other things. To date, the agency has done everything from handing out massive fines to companies that try to skirt the rules to forcing major telephone companies to meet the FCC’s mandate on robocall protection.

The latest effort came on Wednesday when FTC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared her idea for a ban on ringless voicemails. She said if she could get the full Commission’s buy-in, it would further prove to consumers that the agency is serious about getting robocalls completely out of their lives. 

“Ringless voicemail can be annoying, invasive, and can lead to fraud like other robocalls—so it should face the same consumer protection rules,” Rosenworcel said. “No one wants to wade through voicemail spam, or miss important messages because their mailbox is full. This FCC action would continue to empower consumers to choose which parties they give permission to contact them.”

It’s “All About the Message”

Rosenworcel’s push comes about as a response to a petition filed by All About the Message LLC – a company that an investigation by Fortune found suggests is headed by two people, one of which is involved in a marketing firm that bills itself as a provider of "Ringless Voicemail for Auto Dealers.”

In the company’s petition to the FCC, it claims that “the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box does not constitute a call that is subject to the prohibitions on the use of an automatic telephone dialing system...or an artificial or prerecorded voice that are set forth in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act."

The Chairwoman’s proposed action would define ringless voicemails as “calls” that require consumers’ prior express consent. It would also deny the petition and effectively end any chance that “ringless voicemail” robocalling technology could shift from a regulatory gray area to legal fair game.

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