Tim Bauer

Tim Bauer

Last Friday, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a blog entitled “Cutting off Robocalls.” The portion of the piece that has received the most media attention was this:

“In regard to the Commission’s expectations that carriers respond to consumers’ blocking requests, I have sent letters to the CEOs of major wireless and wireline phone companies calling on them to offer call-blocking services to their customers now – at no cost to you. Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive. I have also sent letters to intermediary carriers that connect robocallers to the consumer’s phone company, reminding them of their responsibility to help facilitate the offering of blocking technologies.  I am also calling on the carriers and standards groups to accelerate the development and deployment of technical standards that would prevent spoofing of caller ID and thus make blocking technologies more effective, as was done in the battle against spam years ago.  All of these companies have been asked to respond within 30 days with their concrete, actionable solutions to address these issues.”

As an individual who has been working from a home office the past two years, there is nobody more annoyed by “robocalls” than me. I receive these calls on my land line number all day, every day. Fortunately, I receive very few “robocalls” on my cell phone. These “robocalls” are from scammers, politicians, and fundraisers – people or companies with whom I have no relationship.  I agree with Chairman Wheeler that, in a perfect world, consumers should be able to stop those “robocalls.”

However, Chairman Wheeler and I (along with the most of the ARM industry) disagree on the Wheeler/FCC-led definition of “robocalls.”  Calls to consumers who have legitimate debts because of a prior business relationship should not be deemed “robocalls.” Those calls are substantially different from the ones described above.

I also noticed something else in the blog that received very little media attention. In the second to last paragraph Wheeler wrote:

Last year, the Commission closed loopholes in our robocall restrictions, including placing limits on calls to reassigned numbers. After Congress changed the law authorizing the FCC to limit the number and duration of robocalls to collect federal debts, last week I circulated rules to place limits on these robocalls. This new proposal would limit the number of debt-collection calls allowed per month, ensure the right person is called, and allow consumers to stop the calls. (Emphasis added.)

I find these 3 sentences very interesting. insideARM has written extensively about this issue since President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (Budget Act) into law in November last year. See our November 5, 2015 story.

On Friday, May 6, 2016 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the use of an Automated Telephone Dialing System (ATDS) when contacting consumers via cell phone about debts owed to or guaranteed by the government – such as student loans, mortgages, and taxes. Comments to the proposed rules were due on or before June 6, 2016. Industry experts have noted that there were thousands of responses to the NPRM, including responses from both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  See the insideARM June 21, 2016 story.

If I am reading the bolded section above correctly, Wheeler has already circulated Rules for the debt collection calls on federal debts. Last Friday was a little more than seven weeks since the comments to the NPRM were submitted. Either the FCC is the most efficient government agency known to man and has actually thoroughly reviewed and considered the thousands of responses to NPRM, or Chairman Wheeler and the FCC didn’t seriously consider these submissions.

It is also interesting that the outline of the CFPB debt collection rules are likely to be released this week prior to CFPB Field Hearing in Sacramento on July 28th.  The CFPB rulemaking team has been working on those rules for over three years.  Given the attention received in the CFPB’s NPR, one might assume that call frequency will be a part of those rules.  Will Chairman Wheeler ‘s proposed rules on “number and duration of calls” for collecting federal debt be consistent with any potential CFPB rules? Or, will we end up with one set of rules governing call frequency for federal debt and yet another set of rules governing call frequency for all other types of debt?  Stay tuned.

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