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The facade of the FCC building
Image by Jay Westicott, Politico.

Democratic Senators are urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to curb the practice of telemarketers using straight-to-voicemail technology to bypass consumers’ ringtones.

The Hill reports that Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, both of Connecticut, penned a letter together with Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other legislators, requesting Pai not permit companies to ‘leave messages soliciting business on consumer’s phones that go straight to their voicemail.’

Straight-to-voicemail technology has been in existence for well over a decade. Traditionally, it has been used by doctors’ offices, hospitals, and pharmacies as a non-intrusive way to coordinate appointments or remind customers of prescriptions ready for pickup.

Ringless voicemail technology helps telemarketers and debt collectors reach clients and bypass call-blocking services. Image courtesy of Minh Uong, The New York Times.

The FCC asked for public feedback after several firms put in a petition to have the technology freed from the confines of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

“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,” wrote the senators. “Whether by robocall, by robotext, or by ringless voicemail, consumers should have meaningful control over who can and cannot contact their mobile device.”

Since the review began, consumer watchdogs and lawmakers alike have raised concerns over the possibility that telemarketers and debt collectors could effectively hijack individuals’ voicemail.

Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, wrote that ringless-voicemail messages “will likely overwhelm consumers’ voicemail systems, and consumers will have no way to limit, control or stop these messages.”

She also wrote, “Debt collectors could potentially hijack consumers’ voicemail with collection messages.”

Attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts, and Kentucky have requested that telemarketers not be allowed to use straight-to-voicemail technology en masse, noting that cold calls and dinnertime disturbances are already prevalent enough.

Some political and ostensibly nonprofit organizations, like the Republican National Committee, have argued in favor of the continued deregulation of unsolicited ringless voicemails.

Since a straight-to-voicemail message doesn’t prompt a ringtone or incur any charge to the recipient, they claim, there is room for exemption under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

The technology doesn’t “result in the kind of disruptions to a consumer’s life – dead air calls, calls interrupting consumers at inconvenient times, or delivery charges to consumers – which the TCPA was designed to prevent,” the petition posits.

A recently received letter to Legalreader’s editorial staff following last week’s article on the FCC review also pointed out another failing of the Commission and TCPA – that the Act, penned years before straight-to-voicemail technology ever came into being, might not be fully equipped to address ringless messaging.

In a statement, the FCC indicated it would work towards a resolution.

“After review of the record, the Commission will consider a decision to resolve the question posed by the petition,” an agency spokesperson said.

There is no deadline by which the FCC must address and identify a solution to the dispute.

Sources

Dem senators press FCC not to allow straight-to-voicemail telemarketing

States push FCC to not allow straight-to-voicemail telemarketing messages

Telemarketers, debt collectors fight to bypass ringtone on cellphones

You can sound off to the FCC about ‘ringless voice mail’

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