November 20, 2019
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There aren’t many things that you can get broad consensus on these days, but one of them is that telemarketing and political robocalls are terrible. Some of them are illegal, all of them are annoying, and if some influential groups get their way, these calls will soon take a form that’s even more invasive and irksome.
There is a petition before the FCC that asks the commission to make a ruling that would essentially allow telemarketers and political parties to deliver prerecorded voicemails to wireless subscribers without causing the recipients’ phones to ring. The technique, known as ringless voicemail, doesn’t use the wireless carrier’s phone network and is sent directly to the voicemail box for the recipient, located on the carrier’s servers. What the telemarketers and political parties are pushing for is a declaration from the FCC that this kind of delivery isn’t actually a call and so it shouldn’t be subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the law that stops companies from using robodialers to deliver prerecorded messages to wireless users.
This petition has some powerful support behind it, namely the Republican National Committee, which has submitted comments urging the FCC to approve the petition. The original request for a declaration on this issue came from a firm called All About the Message, which does telemarketing. As things stand right now, robocalls are a massive problem, especially for consumers, many of whom don’t have landlines anymore and only use mobile phones. Commercial firms use robocalls and autodialing technology to try and reach thousands of people a day, sometimes calling the same number multiple times in a single day. Some of these operations are legal, but others aren’t. Just this week the FTC won a $2.7 million judgment against a high-volume robocall operation that had been making billions of calls for years.
Despite successes like that, federal agencies are having a difficult time keeping robocall groups hemmed in, as evidenced by the fact that these operations continue to flourish, sometimes by calling numbers on the Do Not Call registry. Adding another tool such as ringless voicemail to the arsenal of these marketers, as well as political parties, will make life more difficult for both consumers and the regulators trying to keep an eye on them. While most organizations likely will use the technique for legitimate messages that fall within the rules, the system could be ripe for abuse, as well.
When there’s money involved, people will find a way around, over, or under the rules. We’ve seen that throughout the course of history, and there’s no reason to believe this instance will be any different. It’s one thing to get robocalls to a landline, which can be ignored fairly easily. It’s another to get persistent voicemail notifications on your mobile phone, a device that’s with you all the time. Marketers don’t need another avenue to reach consumers, especially one that’s almost impossible for consumers to avoid.