Did you know that text messages are now considered phone calls, at least according to the FCC’s ruling on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)? Earlier this year, the FCC issued a ruling clarifying several points of contention surrounding automated calls. The new rules expand the definition of “calls” to include text messages and restrict the use of autodialers. They also provide greater protections for consumers and allow telecommunications provider to use robocall blocking technologies. In all, 21 petitions were addressed by the FCC, making this ruling one of the biggest changes to the TCPA since the creation of the do-not-call list.
A Brief History of the TCPA
The TCPA dates back to 1991 when it was first passed to amend the Communications Act of 1934. The TCPA restricts telemarketing along with the use of autodialers, prerecorded voice or artificial messages, and fax machines. The Do Not Call Registry Act of 2003 and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule are closely related.
In 2013, the FCC updated the TCPA to restrict SMS text messages, require an automatic opt-out mechanism for robocalls, require prior written consent for wireless calls, and eliminate the “established business relationship” exemption among other changes.
According to the FCC’s press release on the new ruling, “complaints related to unwanted calls are the largest category of complaints received by the Commission, numbering more than 215,000 in 2014.
The FCC’s Recent Updates to the TCPA
The new updates attempt to address these complaints, and they’ll likely prove challenging to call-centric businesses. Among the nearly two dozen changes include updates that:
- Allow telecommunications service providers to use robocall blocking technologies to help stop unwanted robocalls
- Allow consumers to revoke their consent at any time, in any reasonable manner
- Clarify that text messages are considered calls and subject to the same rules
- Prevent a consumer from “inheriting” a previous subscriber’s consent to receive calls
- Clarify what an automatic telephone dialing system is and that human intervention (like clicking a button) is not sufficient to overcome this a system’s status as an autodialer
- Clarify that Internet-to-phone text messaging technologies are considered automatic telephone dialing systems
- Address reassigned numbers, requiring companies to stop calling a reassigned after one call
- Address third party consent, clarifying that people in another person’s contact list have not given consent to receive robocalls from applications downloaded by that person
How the FCC’s New Ruling Affects Your Call-Centric Business
If your business uses automated dialing systems to call or text consumers, you must comply with the TCPA and this new ruling or face hefty penalties. At a minimum, you will need to be prepared to:
- Promptly remove consumers who’ve revoked their consent from your list.
- Treat text messages as if they were phone calls and ensure that your texting practices comply with the TCPA.
- Avoid soliciting your customer’s acquaintances using autodialers. You can still ask for referrals and make personal phone calls, but don’t use an autodialer and definitely do not continue calling if the referral asks you to stop.
- Identify recently reassigned numbers and remove them from your list promptly. If your customer has moved and changed his or her phone number, using phone validation software can help prevent calls to the new subscriber.
These recent changes are widely considered good for consumers but challenging for businesses who use autodialers. Learn more about the new FCC ruling at the FCC’s website.