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“Yes FCC, we meet again old friends” was the message comedian John Oliver had for the FCC on his show Last Week Tonight, when he devoted nearly 20 minutes to an in-depth criticism of “robocalls” and the FCC’s approach to regulating such calls. (Oliver had previously taken aim at the FCC in multiple segments about net neutrality – which included comparing then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo – and he allegedly crashed the FCC’s comment system after encouraging his viewers to submit pro-net neutrality comments in the proceeding that led to the decision to revert back to light-touch regulation of broadband Internet access service.) He ended the March 10th segment by announcing that he was going to “autodial” each FCC Commissioner every 90 minutes with a satirical pre-recorded message urging them to take action to stop robocalls.

The irony of John Oliver making robocalls in order to protest robocalls is rather funny. But, it raises the question – are these calls legal? The fact that the calls appear to be lawful – and would be legal regardless of the action Oliver called for in the program – highlights that there is an important distinction between illegal calls and unwanted calls. In the end, Oliver’s segment demonstrates some of the problems with modern efforts to apply the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), a statute that was adopted well before the proliferation of cell phones in America, and seems to deter many legitimate calls while not sufficiently stopping scam calls.

Continue Reading John Oliver Robocalls the FCC: Is it Legal?

Full Spectrum’s “Inside the TCPA” podcast series offers a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode tackles a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this episode, partner Steve Augustino and associate Jenny Wainwright discuss efforts by the FCC and private industry to limit the number of illegal calls that reach consumers’ phones. In particular, they give an overview of a 2017 FCC order that authorized carriers to block certain types of calls, discuss the basics of private industry call blocking and call labeling services, and review suggestions from both industry and consumer groups on how to address this issue going forward. Click here to listen to this episode and click here to subscribe on iTunes.

At the next open meeting on September 26th, the FCC Commissioners will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) aimed at improving the nation’s 911 system and Americans’ ability to access emergency services. The proposed rule changes are largely intended to implement directives from Congress in two bills that were signed into law earlier this year. Importantly, the proposed rules will apply not only to traditional providers of telecommunications service, but also equipment manufacturers and other vendors in the communications supply chain, as well as businesses and other entities that operate communications systems that allow users to dial 911. Given the potentially broad reach of these proposed rules, we encourage our readers to monitor this proceeding carefully and be prepared to offer feedback to the FCC on proposed changes that will impact your business.

Continue Reading Revamp of 911 Rules on Docket for FCC September Open Meeting

On August 28, 2018, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced a Consent Decree with Marriott International, Inc. (“Marriott”) to resolve an investigation into unauthorized transfers of wireless radio licenses in connection with Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (“Starwood”). The civil payment levied against Marriott and the other conditions set forth in the Consent Decree serve as a reminder to companies that may not normally be subject to the FCC’s jurisdiction to thoroughly review the regulatory implications of mergers, acquisitions, or other corporate transactions as part of any due diligence conducted before a deal is reached.

Continue Reading Marriott Pays Half Million to Resolve Unauthorized FCC License Transfer Investigation

“Inside the TCPA” offers a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode will tackle a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this episode, partner Steve Augustino and associate Jenny Wainwright discuss the consent issues before the FCC in the agency’s remand proceeding after the 2018 D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International. In addition, Steve and Jenny examine three other petitions pending before the agency that could be resolved with the remand proceeding. To listen to this episode, click here.*

Continue Reading Podcast – Inside the TCPA: Consumer Consent

On July 13, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking aimed at improving the reliability of the nation’s Emergency Alert System (“EAS”). This action comes six months after a well-publicized false ballistic missile alert that caused widespread confusion and concern in Hawaii, which the FCC observed “underscore[d] the need to streamline [its] testing processes and to ensure proper safeguards are in place.” The FCC explained that the rule changes “will help alert initiators, as well as EAS Participants to develop the skills necessary to effectively use the EAS.” EAS Participants are radio and television broadcast stations, cable systems, wireline video systems, wireless cable systems, direct broadcast satellite service providers, and digital audio radio service providers. In an unusual move, Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly dissented in part from the item, citing concerns about “alert fatigue” and suggesting that the Commission may be “overstepping” its bounds by requiring communications providers to provide false alert reports.

Continue Reading FCC Adopts Rule Changes to Improve Emergency Alert Reliability

On June 28, 2018, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced a Consent Decree with AT&T Mobility, LLC (“AT&T”) to resolve investigations into two 911 service outages in 2017. The outages lasted for more than five hours and resulted in approximately 15,000 failed calls. The settlement was somewhat unexpected because more than a year had passed since the FCC issued its report on the outages, which did not indicate that enforcement action was coming. The penalty levied against AT&T underscores that improving the nation’s 911 capabilities continues to be a top priority for the FCC and that outages will be met with significant fines.

Continue Reading AT&T Pays $5.25 Million and Agrees to Significant FCC Oversight to Resolve 911 Outage Investigations

Kelley Drye introduces a new Full Spectrum series, “Inside the TCPA,” which will offer a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode will tackle a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this inaugural episode, partner Steve Augustino and associate Jenny Wainwright discuss the definition of an autodialer or ATDS. This episode addresses the 2018 D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International and the FCC’s new proceeding to examine the definition. With initial comments filed on June 13th, Steve and Jenny analyze the principal arguments made by commenters and discuss whether Congress will weigh in on the matter. To listen to this episode, please click here.*

Continue Reading Podcast – Inside the TCPA: Autodialers

On May 14, 2018, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a number of issues regarding the proper interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in light of the recent decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn most of the FCC’s 2015 Omnibus TCPA Declaratory Ruling.  Given Chairman Pai’s strong dissent from the 2015 Declaratory Ruling and his statement praising the D.C. Circuit’s findings regarding it, this comment cycle presents a valuable opportunity for parties who have been adversely affected by the uncertainty surrounding the TCPA in certain years to provide input to the FCC on how it should interpret the statute to best serve its intended purpose.

Continue Reading FCC Turns to ATDS, Other TCPA Issues Following D.C. Circuit Decision

Just over a month after the D.C. Circuit struck down large portions of the FCC’s 2015 Declaratory Ruling interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), several developments on Capitol Hill last week suggest that Congress has renewed its focus on robocall issues.  While these actions are preliminary, it could indicate that addressing robocalls may be priority for Congress ahead of the mid-term elections.

Continue Reading Press “1” for More Scrutiny: Congress Shows Keen Focus on Robocall Issues