FCC Cracks Down On Robocalls
It was a busy week for the Federal Communications Commission. But the thing that most people will cheer is a set of new “declaratory rulings” clarifying the rights of landline and mobile phone users when it comes to automated calls and texts from marketers. Read on to learn about new tools you can use to fight back against telemarketers…
The FCC is On a Roll
It's not often that we see a government agency actually do something worthwhile with the billions of dollars that we the taxpayers pour into their coffers daily. But last week the FCC did THREE things that should be cheered.
First, the agency proposed a record $100 million fine against AT&T for covert throttling of data speeds and not informing customers of changes to their contracts. Next, the FCC voted to continue the Lifeline program’s subsidy of Internet broadband for low-income households, proposing a $9.25 per month subsidy.
And third, the FCC did something to throttle telemarketers who use automated "robocalling" systems to interrupt your dinner with annoying sales pitches.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1991, and it gives consumers control over what calls they want to receive. But marketers have been pushing the boundaries of ambiguities and loopholes in the law. The FCC’s latest declaratory rulings are intended to tighten the reins on robocallers and robotexters.
One example of marketers pushing the limits is the TCPA’s provision that allows companies to call or text anyone with whom they have a “business relationship” for up to 30 days after their last transaction with the customer. Some companies decided that anyone who called asking for their address was obliged to accept phone spam for 30 days. The FCC clarified that consumers have the right to revoke the privilege of calling them at any time.
No More Bending the Rules
Some mobile apps that access a user’s contacts have blithely assumed that the user’s permission to robocall him extends to all of his contacts, too! The FCC put the kibosh on that.
Phone numbers are often reassigned to new customers. Marketers claimed that if the previous “owner” of a reassigned number had opted-in to their robocalls, that consent carried over to the new owner. The FCC now says that only one robocall is permitted after a number is reassigned unless the new owner opts-in for more.
Carriers (AT&T, Verizon, et. al.) have long maintained that they can’t help customers block robocalls because the FCC requires them to transmit all calls. The truth is, blocking calls is not in a carrier’s financial interest. The FCC’s new rulings specifically declare that carriers can block robocalls and robotexts at a customer’s request. (Now we need a rule that says they must!)
All robocalls and robotexts to mobile numbers are always illegal unless the consumer has given the caller prior written consent. Nobody I know has ever mailed a letter to a condo timeshare company saying, “Sure, robocall me!” Carriers should be able (and required) to block such calls en masse, and not require consumers to jump through hoops over every single number they want to block.
Several exceptions to the do-not-call rules remain in effect. Robocalls to landline phones are permitted for political and charity purposes. The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, particularly political speech, means the FCC and even Congress can’t do anything about political robocalls. The exemption for charities is hotly debated, and commercial companies that profit by raising funds for charities continue to take advantage of this loophole. Bill collectors can call your landline unless you tell them in writing that you want them to stop.
Add a Dash of Tech to the Mix
Like malware, spam phone calls are a never-ending and always evolving plague. Minimizing the number of unwanted calls and texts you receive takes as much diligence as avoiding malware. Unfortunately, there is not much of an anti-robocall technology industry to help consumers battle these nuisances.
Google Voice is the best solution I’ve seen. Over a year ago, I forwarded my landline to a free Google Voice number. Now, calls are automatically answered, voicemails are transcribed into text, then emailed to me. I only answer calls from numbers that I know are real people. But the best part is that you can selectively silence or block calls.
When you are logged in to your Google Voice dashboard, all your recent calls are shown in your inbox. You can mark a call as Spam, which funnels all future calls from that number to voicemail, or block certain numbers completely. When a number is blocked, callers get a "not in service" message the next time they call.
That works pretty well for landlines, but really, there should be a “spam” button on every text or voicemail displayed on your smartphone. Are you listening, Android and iOS?
Do you have any clever ways to stop telemarketers and robocalls? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Jun 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- FCC Cracks Down On Robocalls (Posted: 23 Jun 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved