Bankers Petition FCC on “Robocall” Rules; Advocacy Groups Oppose Change

Consumer advocates are urging the commission to reject requests from the banking industry to allow so-called robocalls to cellphones. Meanwhile, in the landline world, a leading telecom group is concerned that any call-blocking measures allowed by the agency might force additional investments in dated technology.

Robocalls are a pain point for just about everyone, and, according to consumer advocates, they’re only becoming more annoying.

But associations in the banking industry say the automated calls have legitimate purposes—for example, to provide urgent information to customers  about fraud or data breaches—and have asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider loosening rules that prevent marketers from robocalling cellphones without users’ permission.

In a petition for exemption from restrictions on such calls in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, ABA said the industry’s goal is not to spam consumers but to disseminate important security information from time to time.

“Indeed, with regard to data security breach notification messages, fraud and identity theft alerts, and remediation messages, the commission will protect consumers if it does not … impose arbitrary limitations on the number of automated fraud-related calls or texts that may be sent,” ABA wrote in its petition for exemption [PDF].

In a separate petition, the Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) asked that the agency to exempt “wrong party” robocalls—in which people get automated calls to their cellphones by accident—from coverage under the TCPA. Currently, the law gives cellphone owners the right to sue over such calls. CBA noted that numbers constantly change [PDF], making “wrong party” calls inevitable.

The National Association of Consumer Advocates isn’t buying that argument, however. It says the onus should not be on consumers to correct the banking industry’s mistakes.

“Maintaining strong protections against these calls creates incentives for the industry to develop methods to avoid harassing people who have not agreed to be called on their cellphones,” NACA Legislative Director Ellen Taverna said in a news release.

NACA joined dozens of other regional and national advocacy groups to oppose any change to the robocall rules for cellphones. Among those signing a joint letter [PDF] were the NAACP, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, Free Press, and the Consumer Federation of America.

The bankers’ proposals “would not only be an improper interpretation of the TCPA, but it would gut essential privacy rights of cellphone users,” the groups said in the letter, filed Friday at the end of the FCC comment period.

The War At Home

That issue isn’t the only one cropping up on the robocall front.

While consumers can use smartphone apps to block calls by aggressive robocallers who ignore Do-Not-Call measures, and VoIP users also have options to avoid annoying calls, old-school landline users don’t have those tools.

The National Association of Attorneys General has asked the FCC to weigh in on what sort of call-blocking actions telecom companies can take on customers’ behalf. The phone industry, represented by the United States Telecom Association, says it supports such measures but that current regulations require it to transmit all calls.

In a letter to the FCC, NAAG asked for clarity on the question for both itself and USTelecom: “At a customer’s request, can telephone carriers legally block certain types of calls (e.g., telemarketing calls) if technology is able to identify incoming calls as originating or probably originating from a telemarketer?”

But USTelecom says adding call-blocking technology could burden its members at a time when the industry is moving away from analog technology.

“It would be the equivalent of putting a new sink in your bathroom that you’re planning to completely rebuild in the very near future,” USTelecom Director of Policy Development Kevin Rupy told NBC News.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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