“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?

[Spencer Elg co-wrote this post]

The current and future definition of what qualifies as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) remains a hotly debated and evaluated issue for every company placing calls and texts, or designing dialer technology, as well as the litigants and jurists already mired in litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Last year, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s ATDS definition in ACA International v. FCC, Case No. 15-1211 (D.C. Cir. 2018). Courts since have diverged in approaches on interpreting the ATDS term.  See, e.g., prior discussions of Marks and Dominguez. All eyes thus remain fixed on the FCC for clarification.

In this post, we revisit the relevant details of the Court’s decision in ACA International, and prior statements of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai concerning the ATDS definition to assess how history may be a guide to how the FCC approaches this issue.

Continue Reading Taking Stock of the TCPA in 2019: What is an “Autodialer”?

With speculation running rampant that Chairman Pai intends to bring a remand order from ACA International v. FCC in January 2019, the FCC took a related step to reduce misdirected calls.  At the December Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Second Report and Order (“R&O”) to create a single, nationwide database for reporting number reassignments that will allow callers to verify whether a phone number was permanently disconnected before calling the number. The item is meant to reduce “wrong number” calls to mobile phones, i.e., where a caller has a legitimate reason for trying to reach a consumer but doesn’t realize that the number they have has been reassigned to someone else. The new rule would help eliminate a scenario where the new holder of the number receives an unwanted call and the prior holder never receives the call intended for them. The R&O is part of a broader effort by the FCC to address and stem the volume of unwanted phone calls in the United States.

Continue Reading In a Prelude to its TCPA Ruling, the FCC Votes to Create a Database to Identify Reassigned Numbers

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.

“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

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

As part of its August 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing over $82 million in fines against Philip Roesel and the insurance companies he operated for allegedly violating the Truth in Caller Act by altering the caller ID information (a/k/a “spoofing”) of more than 21 million robocalls in order to generate sales leads and avoid detection by authorities.  The FCC separately issued a Citation against Mr. Roesel and his companies for allegedly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by transmitting the robocalls to emergency, wireless, and residential phone lines without consent.  The NAL and Citation represent just the latest salvos in the FCC’s continuing assault on robocalling in general and deceptive uses of spoofing in particular.  With $200 million in proposed fines in only two cases, it is clear that such issues will remain an enforcement priority under Chairman Pai.

Continue Reading August 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Rings Up Another Spoofing Robocaller, Proposing Over $82 Million in Fines

On July 13, 2017, the three FCC Commissioners voted in favor of a Second Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to gather feedback on using numbering information to create comprehensive list that businesses can use to identify telephone numbers that have been reassigned from a consumer that consented to receiving calls to another consumer.  It also asks whether the Commission should “consider a safe harbor from [Telephone Consumer Protection Act] violations” for robocallers who use the reassigned number resource.  This action is the latest of several TCPA rulemaking actions initiated by Chairman Pai since he assumed leadership of the FCC.  While the action is a NOI – which is a precursor to proposed rules – the action signals the importance the new Chairman has placed on reducing the number of unwanted calls consumers receive.

Continue Reading July 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: Commissioners Adopt Second Robocall NOI to Examine Reassigned Number Database Issues