Most marketers are aware that the FCC has something to do with the regulation of computers and computing peripherals, products that are widely sold online.  Unfortunately, marketers sometimes do not realize that the FCC’s rules also apply to a host of household devices such as coffeemakers, electric razors, car battery chargers, jewelry polishing devices, and similar electronic products that are also widely sold online.  Even more problematic is that the FCC tends to take failure to comply with its rules governing these devices very seriously and can and does assess stiff fines for even innocent violations.
Continue Reading Keep the FCC on Your Radar

Following confusion in both the courts and the FCC, Congress is now looking to step in and resolve disputed provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). As readers of this blog know, earlier this year in ACA Int’l v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018), the D.C. Circuit set aside the FCC’s interpretation of “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) as it was defined in the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Order (2015 Order). In the same decision, the D.C. Circuit also vacated the 2015 Order’s approach to calling reassigned and wrong numbers. As a result, it’s now unclear what the relevant standard is for these provisions of the TCPA.

So far, courts have found addressing the fallout of the ACA Int’l decision to be Mission Impossible. They’re split as to whether the FCC’s prior 2003, 2008, and 2012 orders are still valid or whether the D.C. Circuit’s decision also vacated those rulings. One common question is whether all predictive dialers should be considered ATDS or if the definition should only encompass automatically dialed numbers that are randomly or sequentially generated. The District of Arizona, for example, has said that “this Court will not defer to any of the FCC’s . . . [earlier orders] regarding the first required function of an ATDS . . . .” Herrick v. GoDaddy.com, No. CV-16-00254, 2018 WL 2229131, at *7 (D. Ariz. May 14, 2018). See also Marshall v. CBE Group, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-02406, 2018 WL 1567852, at *4 (D. Nev. Mar. 30, 2018). The Northern District of Georgia, however, applied the 2003 Order in its decision on the issue. Maddox v. CBE Group, No. 1:17-cv-1909, 2018 WL 2327037, at *4–*5 (N.D. Ga. May 22, 2018). Meanwhile, the Southern District of Florida held that the FCC’s position is unclear and either interpretation of ATDS is acceptable. Reyes v. BCA Fin. Services, No. 16-24077, 2018 WL 2220417, at *9 (S.D. Fla. May 14, 2018). To sum it up, the ACA Int’l decision left courts confused as to what extent predictive dialers fall under the definition of ATDS and subsequently the TCPA.

Continue Reading Congress Takes TCPA Action: Clarifying or Confusing?

CommentsThe FCC is going back to the drawing board—and it wants some help.

Earlier this week, the Commission announced that it is seeking comments “on several issues related to interpretation and implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), following the recent decision” of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in ACA International v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018).

As we have written previously, in March the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited ruling on the FCC’s 2015 Omnibus Telephone Consumer Protection Act Order (2015 Order) in which the Commission set out to resolve 21 requests for clarification about the TCPA and related rules and orders. The D.C. Circuit’s decision dealt a partial blow to the 2015 Order, setting aside the FCC’s interpretation of “automatic telephone dialing system” (“autodialer” or “ATDS”) as overly broad and vacating the agency’s approach to calling reassigned numbers—i.e., restrictions on calls made to a phone number previously assigned to a person who had given consent but since reassigned to another (nonconsenting) person. The D.C. Circuit vacated in particular the FCC’s reading of the statute to permit a one-call safe harbor for callers to determine whether a number had been reassigned to a nonconsenting person. The court, however, did uphold the FCC’s conclusion that parties may revoke their consent through any “reasonable means” clearly expressing a desire to receive no further messages from the caller. It also upheld the scope of the Commission’s exemption for time-sensitive, healthcare-related calls.

Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on TCPA After D.C. Circuit Ruling

telemarketing lawsOn March 23, 2018, the FCC and FTC hosted a joint forum to discuss the issue of robocalls. Consisting of three panels and remarks from key leadership of both agencies, the event marked a significant step in agency cooperation to mitigate consumer frustration from unwanted calls. The panels focused on three issues: (1) challenges facing consumers and industry; (2) recent regulatory and enforcement efforts; and (3) tools and solutions for consumers. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen delivered opening remarks, with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Brendan Carr, as well as FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, also speaking.

Panelists identified number spoofing as the biggest issue magnifying the robocall problem. As a result of spoofing, consumers have lost trust in answering the phone, leading to a significant rise in call completions not occurring. Telephone providers have attempted to combat the spoofing problem by screening calls, but there is skepticism as to the long-term viability of screening mechanisms for fear that robocallers will learn to circumvent screens and consumer trust might further erode due to the lack of transparency in what calls are being blocked. Businesses in particular have felt the frustration of lost consumer trust, and panelists claimed that legitimate business calls have declined by 20-30%. Representatives from the communications industry called for technology that would provide an intercept code for businesses to receive notice that their calls had been blocked, but stressed that transparency on the consumer side, too, was paramount.

Continue Reading This Argument Is No Longer in Service: Did FCC and FTC Drop the Issue of Reassigned Numbers as a Solution to Robocalls?

The FCC’s Sponsorship Identification Rule is a close, perhaps neglected cousin of the FTC’s Enforcement Policy Statement on Deceptively Formatted Advertisements, i.e., its Native Advertising Guide. Nevertheless, the FCC’s latest enforcement action demonstrates how failure to follow the rule can result in penalties far larger than any imposed to date by the FTC. It also hints at the possibility that a single ad can result in dual liability for advertisers and broadcasters.

The Sponsorship ID Rule is fairly straightforward: if a broadcast station charges or accepts (or is promised) any money, service, or other valuable consideration in exchange for airing a piece of programming, then the broadcaster must disclose – at the time of the broadcast: (1) that the programming is “sponsored,” “paid,” or “furnished,” and (2) the identity of the sponsor. The Rule contains additional disclosure requirements for political ads, as well as “beneficial owner”-type provisions that require disclosure of the true sponsor in interest, rather than the name of any agent or middleman used to furnish the payment. A corollary to the Sponsorship ID Rule imposes a similar burden on sponsors to disclose to broadcasters when they have provided money, services or other consideration in exchange for the broadcast. 47 U.S.C. § 508.

Continue Reading FCC Revives Its Own Native Advertising Rule: Sponsorship Identification

The midterm elections are just around the corner, and with them could come a host of potential Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) concerns if recent history is any indication.  The TCPA places restrictions on, among other things, robocalls and automated text messages, both of which often are used by political campaigns seeking votes or donations.  Less clear is whether the TCPA actually applies to political campaigns’ calling and texting operations.

The FCC has asserted that the TCPA covers campaign calls according to the Act’s plain language.  But the FCC’s guidance isn’t necessarily heeded by campaigns, as shown by the different treatment of the issue in two recent articles.  One describes the proliferation of robocalls in NYC elections and depicts political campaigns’ actions as politically protected speech that is exempt from the TCPA, directly contradicting the FCC’s stance on the matter.  The other concerns the same scenario in Hickory, NC’s mayoral election, but acknowledges that a campaign’s robocalls may have been TCPA violations, with officials blaming North Carolina election law for the lack of guidance.
Continue Reading One Vote for a TCPA Violation? Campaign Robocalls During Recent Elections Draw Ire

telemarketing lawsIn July 2015, a divided Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued its omnibus Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Order, which modified and ostensibly “clarified” numerous aspects of the TCPA, such as expanding the definition of “automatic telephonic dialing system” (more commonly referred to as autodialer) and concluding that consumer consent to receive calls may be revoked

to be continuedSummer 2017 has seen and will see some well-publicized releases of sequels, remakes, and reboots: Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant; Johnny Depp back in his starring role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise; Stephen King’s It; and the latest installments in The Mummy, Transformers, and Spider Man series, to name a few. Even Baywatch got a big screen makeover.

Not to be left out, on August 1, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had done in October 2015, it would be releasing robocall and do not call consumer complaint information. However, the FTC releases such information on a daily basis, whereas the FCC’s release of complaint data is done weekly. According to the FTC’s press release announcing the initiative, “the robocaller phone numbers consumers provide will be released each day to telecommunications carriers and other industry partners that are implementing call-blocking solutions.” An example of the type of complaint information that the FTC releases is below.

Continue Reading Summer of Sequels: The FTC Joins the FCC in Releasing Consumer Complaints Regarding Purported Robocalls and Do Not Call Violations

telemarketing lawsOn March 31, 2017, All About the Message LLC (AATM), filed a petition for a declaratory ruling before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), requesting that the FCC issue a rule that would declare that delivering a voice message directly into a consumer’s voicemail box does not constitute a “call” that is subject to the Telephone

call centerThe FCC was busy in November.  On November 18, the FCC posted an Enforcement Advisory on robotexting and consumer protection, and on November 21 published a blog on robocalls.  The FCC notes that the Advisory was issued to promote understanding of the clear limitations on the use of autodialed text messages, often referred to as “robotexts.”

The Advisory reminds us that the FCC’s TCPA rules apply to text messages as well as pre-recorded calls, and reiterates that “prior express written consent” is required for autodialed texts that include or introduce an advertisement, whereas “prior express consent” is required for messages that are not commercial in nature.

Continue Reading FCC Posts Enforcement Advisory Alerting Businesses of TCPA Text Messaging Rules