STATEMENT OF FCC CHAIRMAN TOM WHEELER
Re: In the Matter of Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, CG Docket No. 02-278, WC Docket No. 07-135
The American public has asked us – repeatedly – to do something about unwanted robocalls. Today we help Americans hang up on nuisance calls.
We use our telephones – increasingly, our indispensable smart phones – to talk to family and friends, to take care of business, to make plans, to share good news, and sometimes, when things don’t go well, to make a complaint. Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of consumers have made their voices heard by complaining to the Commission about unwanted telephone calls – calls they didn’t ask for, that they don’t want, and that they can’t stop. Today, we help them gain some of their privacy back.
Complaints under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the law that makes unwanted robocalls and texts illegal, are together the largest complaint category we have at the Commission. Last year alone, we received more than 215,000 such complaints. The data reveal the scale of the robocall problem. The individual stories behind them reveal the costs.
Consider Brian, who writes: “Robocalls are a daily occurrence on both my landline, and increasingly, on my mobile number. These interruptions impact my productivity. Each call takes me off task and further time is lost trying to pick up where I left off when the interruption occurred. . . . We The Consumers pay for these telephony services; these are our phones and we deserve to be allowed to control who calls us.”
Or how about Peggy, who writes: “I live in a large home and have many medical issues . . . . [T]hese robocalls . . . cause me to stress out because I can’t get to the phone . . . . Simply put, it’s stalking. . . . It’s more than just annoying, it’s unethical. . . . They are invading my privacy, period.”
And it’s not just calls, it’s text messages too. One consumer told us they received 4,700 unwanted texts over a 6-month period.
Our vehicle for helping consumers today is resolving an unprecedented number of requests for clarification. We rule on 21 separate matters that collectively empower consumers to take back control of their phones. These rulings have a simple concept: you are the decision maker, not the callers.
For the first time, we clarify that there is no legal reason carriers shouldn’t offer their customers popular robocall-blocking solutions, so that consumers can use market-based approaches to stop unwanted calls. We also clarify that callers cannot skirt their obligation to get a consumer’s consent based on changes to their calling equipment or merely by calling from a list of numbers. We make it clear that it should be easy for consumers to say “no more” even when they’ve given their consent in the past.
And if you have the bad luck of inheriting a wireless number from someone who wanted all types of robocalls, we have your back. We make it clear first that callers have a number of tools to detect that the number has changed hands and that they should not robocall you, and we provide the caller one single chance to get it wrong before they must get it right. This is critical because we have heard from consumers that getting stuck with a reassigned number can lead to horrible consequences. One consumer received 27,809 unsolicited text messages over 17 months to one reassigned number, despite their requests to stop the texts.
Some argue that we have not updated the TCPA to reflect modern calling and consumer expectations in an increasingly mobile-phone world, and this hurts businesses and other callers. Quite the contrary: we provide the clarifications that responsible businesses need to responsibly use robocalling equipment. Indeed, we interpret the TCPA in a commonsense way that benefits both callers and consumers. Exhibit A is that we clear the way for time-sensitive calls about consumer healthcare and bank accounts, so that consumers can get the information as quickly as possible. With important conditions on the number of calls and opt-out ability, we prove that both consumers and businesses can win under the TCPA.
We all love our phones, and we now carry them wherever we go. Today, we give consumers their peace back. It’s simple: consumers should be able to make the decision about whether they receive automated calls. If they want them, they can consent. And if they don’t consent, they should be left alone.
Thank you to my colleagues for their excellent input on this item, and for sending a clear message that this Commission will continue to act on behalf of consumers.
And thank you to our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau for their hard work on behalf of consumers – and for the diligent efforts of the Commission staff who assisted CGB with this item