Telephone Consumer Protection Act

“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

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

On March 31, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision in Bais Yaakov of Spring Valley et.al. vs. FCC (No. 14-1234), holding that the FCC’s 2006 Solicited Fax Rule is unlawful to the extent that it requires opt-out notices on faxes sent with the recipient’s consent (i.e., “solicited” faxes).  The decision also vacated the FCC’s October 30, 2014 Fax Advertisement Waiver Order insofar as it attempted to enforce the rule and grant retroactive waivers to certain parties of the opt-out notice requirement.  This decision is a big win for defendants in a recent wave of class action cases based on a failure to include opt-out notices on solicited faxes.  These defendants – nearly 150 of whom had received retroactive waivers from the FCC – now will not face liability for faxes sent with the recipient’s permission.

Continue Reading

To close out his first week as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai spoke briefly at a meeting of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee on Friday, January 27, 2017 and made clear that one of his priorities will be to address “robocalls,” which are the number one source of complaints to the FCC.  However, we expect that his methods will be much different than those employed during Chairman Wheeler’s tenure.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

On December 21, 2016, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) released an order denying a request by Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare, Inc. (Kohll’s) for a declaratory ruling that facsimiles sent on its behalf did not violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) “where the facsimiles simply informed businesses of the health benefits of corporate flu vaccines.”  Kohll’s claimed that such transmissions do not fit within the definition of an “unsolicited advertisement” because “the purpose of the facsimile transmission was to ‘promote wellness … so that people would get vaccinated and not get ill.’”  Alternatively, Kohll’s asked the FCC to issue an exemption from the TCPA for its faxes based on the Commission’s exemption for healthcare-related calls subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or for a retroactive waiver of the fax advertisement rules.  The Bureau ruled against Kohll’s on each request.

Continue Reading

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is increasing its visibility in response to what it has repeatedly cited as its largest source of consumer complaints to the Commission: autodialed and prerecorded calls (which the FCC groups together as so-called “robocalls”).  In addition to pushing for industry-based solutions to unwanted calls to consumers through initiatives such as

stock_12192012_0878The FCC’s high-profile efforts with regard to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) continue.   In addition to two controversial orders released in the last two weeks, the FCC is pushing the telecommunications industry to take action on blocking techniques.  Now the FCC has announced that it will host a meeting for what is billed as an industry-led “Robocall Strike Force.”  The Strike Force was created after Chairman Wheeler took to the FCC blog to prod the industry to action.

Continue Reading