The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making it virtually impossible for telemarketers to reach out and touch consumers with pre-recorded marketing pitches, also known as “robo-calls.”
By a unanimous vote, the FCC adopted rules to require telemarketers who use automated calling systems to get permission from a consumer before they contact them. And not just permission – written permission!
Since telemarketers in general and robo-calls in particular are a widespread source of consumer complaints, it's highly unlikely many consumers would provide such consent. Given the fact that obtaining that written permission would be an extremely expensive undertaking, the ruling appears to be a death knell for robo-calls.
The ruling only covers robo-calls in which the telemarketer is trying to sell something. Informational robo-calls, like reminders of a dentist appointment, and political messages, are exempt from the rule.
“Consumers by the thousands have complained to us, letting us know that they remain unhappy with having their privacy invaded and their time wasted by these unwanted calls,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.
How about debt collectors?
It isn't immediately clear if the new ruling will apply to debt collectors that use automated calling systems. Jannette, of Garden Grove, Calif., has to hope it does.
“They are robo-calling my cellphone number several times a day without my request to track down another member of my family,” Jannette told ConsumerAffairs. “I have called them several times and asked them to cease and desist, but they keep calling.”
Texts are covered
The ruling does, in fact, apply to cellular text messages, also a source of widespread complaints. The wireless industry strongly supported the ruling.
"With 80 percent of wireless-related complaints coming from third parties sending unwanted text messages and making unsolicited phone calls, consumers are the winners from the FCC's re-affirmation today,” said Christopher Guttman-McCabe, an executive with CTIA – The Wireless Association. “As CTIA had requested this January, any autodialed text message sent to a wireless device without prior written or oral consent violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.”
Guttman-McCabe said there has been an increase in consumer complaints and inquiries made to carriers' customer call centers in recent months regarding unwanted text messages sent by political campaigns.