At last Friday’s meeting of the Federal Communication Commission Consumer Advisory Board, debt collection was on the agenda.
insideARM reported in November that the congressional budget deal included a provision to let companies collecting consumer debts guaranteed by the government (like federal student loans) call cellphones using auto-dialers. The Washington Post reported at the time that the Department of Education argued for the change to help its servicers have a better chance of keeping borrowers on track with payments. Because student loan borrowers are generally younger and more likely to use mobile phones exclusively, the ability to communicate by cellphone is essential.
That provision included a deadline of “not later than nine months after the date of enactment” for the FCC to prescribe regulations to implement the amendments – early August 2016.
Indeed, Friday’s advisory board meeting agenda included the item, “Robocalls and Federal Debt Collection: New TCPA Amendment.” Kristi Thornton, Associate Division Chief, Consumer Policy Division at the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau announced that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would soon be released, and likely questions will include:
- What does it mean to make a call solely to collect a debt?
- Who may use modern dialing technology to call a consumer about government-related debts?
- Should there be a limit on how many times a company can contact a consumer?
- Does the consumer need to be in default or should other servicing activities be included in the exemption?
Based on what we have seen and heard from the FCC, we would expect them to draw these rules as narrowly as humanly possible. Notwithstanding Congress or the Department of Education, the majority of the Commissioners, and evidently the FCC Chairman, simply do not like auto-dialers – for any purpose. Exceptions include Commisioners O’Rielly and Pai.