US Senate Democrats today asked the Federal Communications Commission to protect consumers from ringless voicemails, which let robocallers leave voicemails without ringing your phone.
The Republican National Committee (RNC), which is already using ringless voicemails, recently asked the FCC to approve a petition filed by a marketing company that sells direct-to-voicemail services. Approving the petition would exempt ringless voicemails from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and allow marketers and others to use the technology without complying with anti-robocall rules.
This is a horrible idea, Democrats said.
“Should this petition be granted, telemarketers, debt collectors, and other callers could bombard Americans with unwanted voicemails, leaving consumers with no way to block or stop these intrusive messages,” they wrote.
The letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was signed by Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.), Patrick Leahy (D–Vt.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).
The senators continued:
Exempting ringless voicemails from the TCPA’s autodialer protections would allow callers to overwhelm consumers with ringless voice messages without first receiving express consumer consent. Further, consumers would have no way to stop callers from sending ringless voice messages, and callers would have no limits on the quantity or duration of these messages. The Do Not Call List may not apply, and consumers would be flooded with unwanted voicemails, with little recourse other than sifting through their inboxes and deleting these unwanted communications.
Congress’s goal when it passed the TCPA in 1991 was to protect Americans from intrusive and unsolicited messages regardless of the technology used, the senators wrote. “While technology has changed, that key goal has not,” they wrote. “Whether by robocall, by robotext, or by ringless voicemail, consumers should have meaningful control over who can and cannot contact their mobile device.”
Republicans claim First Amendment right
The RNC claimed that it has a First Amendment right to use ringless voicemails to solicit donations and inform voters about political and governmental issues. An FCC finding against the petition “would not only restrict an important form of non-intrusive communication; it would have serious consequences for the First Amendment rights of those engaged in political communication via telephone,” the RNC told the FCC.
Pai has not taken a position on the ringless voicemail petition, but he has promised to take action against robocalls generally. The FCC said it would accept public comments on the petition until June 2, though people are still commenting about the plan on the docket. There is no set timeline for when the FCC has to make a ruling.