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FCC Action Zaps Robocalls

By Rachelle Dragani
Feb 16, 2012 10:35 AM PT

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has put in place tougher restrictions regarding prerecorded telemarketing calls, aka "robocalls."

FCC Action Zaps Robocalls

In a 3-0 vote, the commissioners agreed on four ways to limit the automated marketing calls, which often irritate users of residential and cellphone lines.

The FCC ruled that telemarketers will have to receive written consent from a consumer prior to placing a robocall. The commission noted that some consumers may want to give consent to receive certain automated calls, such as ones regarding school closings or flight delays.

Previously, some companies were able to get around exiting guidelines by proving they had an "established business relationship" with a consumer, but the new rules will eliminate that exemption.

Future robocalls also must include an an "automated, interactive opt-out mechanism" so a consumer can tell the telemarketer to stop calling. The FCC will also limit so-called dead calls, or calls where someone picks up the phone and hears nothing on the other end.

The FCC's decision follows Federal Trade Commission guidelines that place similar restrictions on automated calls. The new guidelines from the FCC, though, will apply to telemarketing campaigns from airlines, insurance companies, financial institutions and intrastate telemarketers, areas in which the FTC doesn't have jurisdiction.

FCC Rules

When the FCC implemented previous restrictions against telemarketers, such as establishing the No-Call List in 2004, marketing agencies challenged the decision in court. This time around, however, many marketing agencies haven't voiced disapproval, since the restrictions are largely streamlined with FTC rules already in place.

The American Teleservices Association said on Wednesday it won't fight the FCC on this issue.

"The ATA does not plan to challenge this ruling," Chris Haerich, the organization's vice president of member services, told the E-Commerce Times. "We are in support of the FCC and their ruling as it relates to prerecorded sales calls. The majority of our members only utilize prerecorded messages for charitable, informational and political calling, which is still permissible under the rules."

If another agency wanted to continue making automated robocalls that fell outside the FCC guidelines, the court battle would be a tough one, according to Marc Roth, partner in the advertising, marketing and media division of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.

"The FCC made changes based on a careful review on a record of consumer complaints, and the decision really harmonizes with the FTC requirements. So this would be a pretty tough one to have overturned in court," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Slight Change to Legal Battles

Though the FTC already had similar rules in place, there was still a provision under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act that could change the legal battle after the new FCC guidelines go into effect.

The new set of rules will have a more streamlined approach that will make it easier on marketing companies to make sure they're only calling within the established boundaries.

"Part of the problem with all these sets of rules is that there are both the FTC and the FCC regulations," Scott Shaffer, a partner at Olshan Grundman, told the E-Commerce Times. It can be unclear, especially when they're so close together, why you need the two different sets. Even for companies that want to comply with the rules, it can get confusing trying to give counsel."

The FCC indicated that it worked with consumers to evaluate the complaints they still had, even with the FTC guidelines in place.

"The FCC really wanted a balanced and measured approach for this, just to address the abuses," said Roth.

The FCC didn't respond to our request for comment.

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