Program Chains Off of Recent TCPA Order on Autodialed Calls and Texts

Telemarketers and others who may have been wondering how the Federal Communications Commission’s recent and – to industry participants – concerning Declaratory Ruling and Order on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) (TCPA Order) might affect their autodialing can look for hints in one respect to a workshop planned for FCC’s headquarters next month.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau announced that it will host a workshop on robocalling and caller ID spoofing on Wednesday, September 16, 2015. Billing the event as part of “the Commission’s recent work helping consumers fight unwanted robocalls,” the workshop comes on the heels of the Commission’s latest TCPA Order, which “clarified” the restrictions on prerecorded telemarketing and autodialed calls and texts to cell phones.  The workshop’s agenda is forthcoming, though the announcement states that it will examine present robocall-blocking methods, industry efforts to block unwanted robocalls, and potential ways to prevent caller ID spoofing, with panelists representing a wide array of stakeholders.

The FCC’s most recent TCPA Order was released on July 10, 2015, and was initially spurred by nearly two-dozen petitions from businesses which sought clarity and relief from TCPA litigation exposure by asking the FCC to adopt interpretations of “gray areas” in the statute, rules, and previous FCC guidance that were favorable to callers. Instead of providing the hoped-for flexibility, clarity and relief petitioners sought, the TCPA Order delivered on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s promised crackdown on interpretive loopholes, and strengthened protections against unwanted autodialed calls and texts and prerecorded calls.

One way in which it did so was to address a request for clarification by the National Association of Attorneys General, regarding whether common carriers – mostly wireline and wireless telephone service providers – are allowed to offer call-blocking technology to help consumers avoid unwanted calls.  In its TCPA Order, the FCC clarified that nothing in the Communications Act or FCC rules/orders prohibits carriers from deploying such technology.  Obviously, caller ID spoofing, which is restricted by other statutes and rules, would be one strategy to avoid such blocking by consumers, though one fraught with potential pitfalls.  Exploring how modern autodialing technology works, and how it might be combatted with consumer-selected call-blocking options, while also avoiding the blocking of wanted calls, is key if such carrier-side options are to be offered.  It will be interesting to see how the FCC builds its agenda for the Workshop with these concepts in mind.