Republicans claim 1st Amendment right to send you robo-voicemails

Republicans claim 1st Amendment right to send you robo-voicemails
GOP asks FCC to exempt direct-to-voicemail messages from robocall rules.
By Jon Brodkin
May 25 2017

You might start getting many more voicemails if Republicans get their wish.

A marketing company called All About the Message recently petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from being applied to “the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box” without ringing the recipient’s phone. These ringless voicemails are already happening, but their legal status is unclear.

That petition was filed in March, and last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) asked the Federal Communications Commission to approve the petition. The petition asks the FCC “to declare that the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box does not constitute a call that is subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (‘TCPA’) and its implementing rules,” the RNC wrote. “The RNC supports this clarification, which is consistent with the language of the TCPA.”

An FCC finding against the petition “would not only restrict an important form of non-intrusive communication; it would have serious consequences for the First Amendment rights of those engaged in political communication via telephone,” the RNC also wrote. The Republican group told the FCC that it uses “all manner of communications” to discuss political and governmental issues and solicit donations, “including direct-to-voicemail messages.”

The US Chamber of Commerce and American Financial Services Association are also pushing the FCC to approve the petition. The Democratic National Committee has not weighed in on the proposal.

The TCPA prohibits non-emergency calls made with auto-dialers, artificial voices, or prerecorded voices without the “prior express consent of the called party.” There are exceptions for charities and limited exceptions for political campaign robocalls. Political robocalls are “permissible when made to landline telephones, even without prior express consent,” but “prohibited to cell phones, pagers, or other mobile devices without the called party’s prior express consent,” the FCC says. TCPA rules also apply to text messages.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has worked to eliminate or prevent implementation of consumer protection regulations in areas such as inmate calling rates, data security, TV set-top box rental fees, disclosures of hidden fees and data caps, and net neutrality. But Pai has taken a consistent stand against robocalls, describing the problem as a “scourge” that results in US residents receiving 2.4 billion robocalls a month despite rules intended to restrict such calls.

When asked if Pai has any position on the direct-to-voicemail petition, an FCC spokesperson said the commission cannot comment on pending petitions.

“All petitions are put out for public comment after which we will review the record” and prepare a declaratory ruling, the FCC said. “There is no set timeline for resolving such petitions and we cannot comment on the content of a petition until it is resolved by ruling.” Comments are being accepted until June 2.



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