With just under one month left in Chairman Tom Wheeler’s tenure, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has continued to publicize the agency’s focus on enforcing and increasing awareness of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Most recently, Chairman Wheeler issued a statement on December 21, 2016 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the TCPA, in which he commented that “the Commission has renewed its commitment to a strong, pro-consumer reading of the [Act].” The statement highlighted several specific examples of the Commission’s recent TCPA policy actions, including the Enforcement Bureau’s “robotext” advisory, the clarification on the TCPA’s applicability to calls from schools and utility companies, and the 2015 Omnibus TCPA Order that expanded the definition of an “autodialer” and established a one-call safe harbor for calls to reassigned phone numbers. (Note: an appeal of the 2015 Omnibus TCPA Order is pending before the D.C. Circuit. The FCC faced strong questioning at the oral argument, and we believe that the court’s decision may result in reversal of some of all of the FCC’s decision.) The Commission separately marked the TCPA’s silver anniversary with a series of consumer-focused tweets about certain call restrictions provided for in the statute.
The Chairman’s statement comes one week after the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) hosted a webinar for consumers entitled “How to Deal with Robocalls.” The hour-long webinar was broken out into the following segments:
(1) A discussion on the FCC’s recent TCPA actions. This included the adoption of rules in August to implement the federal debt collection exemption and the July order clarifying how the TCPA would be applied to calls and texts from schools and utility companies in certain instances.
(2) A presentation of the Enforcement Bureau’s perspective on TCPA issues. Staff noted that TCPA enforcement priorities have shifted over time, depending in part on information received in consumer complaints. Right now, they are focused on spoofing, and spam text messaging is an increasing area of concern.
(3) An overview of the FCC’s technical efforts to reduce robocalls. The FCC is working with the industry, through initiatives such as the Robocall Strike Force, to develop authentication standards to address spoofing issues, as well as other technical solutions to reduce the number of autodialed calls consumers receive.
It is unclear whether or how the FCC’s focus on TCPA and other consumer issues may change following the transition to the new administration. We will continue to monitor the FCC’s activity in this area, and will post updates here.