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FCC Seeks Comment on TCPA Autodialer Rules

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March 20, 2009

FCC Seeks Comment on TCPA Autodialer Rules

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) is seeking public comment by April 2nd on a petition for an expedited clarification and declaratory ruling on the autodialer regulations in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

The request, filed by Paul D.S. Edwards, is asking whether a creditor may place autodialed or prerecorded message calls to a telephone number associated with wireless service that was provided to the creditor initially as a telephone number associated with landline service.
The TCPA prohibits the initiation of calls, other than emergency calls or made with the prior express consent of called parties, from using automatic telephone dialing systems or artificial or prerecorded voice, to any telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service. The FCC concluded that such calls to wireless numbers that are provided by the called party to a creditor in connection with an existing debt are permissible as calls made with prior express consent i.e. opt-in.

Edwards asserts that the FCC ruling permits debt collection calls to a wireless telephone number only when the consumer, in that instance, provides the wireless telephone number to the creditor. He contends that when the creditor is initially provided a landline telephone number, and subsequently that the landline number is ported to a cellular telephone, an established business relationship, prior express consent, or other exemptions from the TCPA is not created.
Edwards concludes that compliance with the TCPA requires that the consumer must have provided the creditor a telephone number assigned to a wireless service in order for calls to the wireless telephone number to be permissible. Accordingly, the FCC seeks comment on Edwards's petition.
It will be interesting, say observers, to see how the FCC rules on this issue. Number porting and transfers to wireless devices is becoming commonplace; increasing numbers of households are going wireless only.
Ruling in favor of Edwards may in these tough economic times drive more debt-burdened consumers to increasingly affordable wireless devices to avoid being called. Yet regulators are usually loath to let rules stand in the way of legitimate activity such as collecting debts, and to let those who have such obligations to hide behind regulatory language to avoid meeting them.
Does the FCC open the gates to wireless users, who pay for their inbound calls, to receive many more calls on their devices by provide ‘safe harbors’ for creditors and others e.g. telemarketers making lawful calls via autodialers? Or does it decide to go beyond the Do Not Call list and make all outbound calls for whatever business purposes opt-in?

Brendan B. Read
is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Mike Dinan

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