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HBO Show Blames ACA v. FCC Court Ruling for Increase in Robocalls

Without coming out and naming them specifically, it sounded an awful lot like John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” put the blame for the increasing number of robocalls that individuals are receiving squarely on the shoulders of ACA International’s lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission.

During a segment on robocalls in last night’s episode, Oliver mentioned changes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (without naming the law specifically) that gave individuals the right to revoke consent to be contacted by informing the call of that request. The changes were made in a Declaratory Ruling from the FCC in July 2015. But ACA International sued the FCC, and won in a ruling that struck down many of the changes the FCC had proposed. So how did Oliver describe that scenario?

“Those rules were struck down after a trade group sued, at which point, robocalls increased significantly,” Oliver said during the segment. “So we made real progress toward addressing a problem, but then we blew it. We basically got our one year sobriety chip and then celebrated by drinking a gallon of Captain Morgan.”

I might be completely wrong and this might be another trade group that Oliver is referencing. If I am wrong, please let me know and I’ll update this post.

Many in the credit and collection industry will remember Oliver for a segment he did three years ago on debt buying.

Oliver did list two “legitimate” reasons for receiving robocalls at the top of his segment — messages about school closings and prescription refills — but spent much of his time spoofing the problem.

Oliver also took time to blast Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, for being against the changes to the TCPA in the first place and then being “extremely happy” when the court ruling was issued, and for not being forceful enough with the telecom companies to do more to fight back against robocalls.

In the segment, Oliver noted that three of the most prolific robocallers were creditors seeking to “chase debts,” and referenced a new report featuring an individual who received more than 6,000 robocalls from a bank to collect on a late mortgage. In some cases, the individual claimed to receive more than 20 calls per day, a number which Oliver had some fun with.

“That is absolutely ridiculous,” Oliver said. “What is the point of calling someone 20 times a day to collect a debt? ‘While I couldn’t pay you 45 minutes ago, a small propeller plane full of drug money just crash landed into my den. Thanks so much for the call you ravenous ghouls.’ “

Nobody will argue that making that many calls in an attempt to collect on a debt is the right thing to do. And nobody will argue that companies that make that many calls shouldn’t be punished for doing so. But in making light of a serious problem, it should be mentioned that debt collection is legitimate reason for making a reasonable number of automated calls to an individual and the credit and collection industry should not be compared with scammers who are willingly and knowingly breaking the law.

Oliver also looked at how one creditor requires customers to revoke consent from receiving calls, which was on the fourth page of a terms & conditions document and required the individual to mail a letter to the company.

Finally, Oliver noted that Pai and the FCC are working on drafting new rules, and attempted to spotlight the potential consequences for consumers.

Pai may “bow to telemarketers and banks and draft a new and narrower definition of what constitutes autodialing, which is technical, but it would limit what would count as a robocall,” Oliver said. “And if he does that, it could have huge consequences. If [a creditor] calls you 6,000 times, you might no longer be able to sue them under anti-robocall laws. Would allow robocalls to increase even more.”

Then, Oliver announced his staff had set up a robocalling program that will call the office phones of the five FCC commissioners every 90 minutes with a pre-recorded message urging them to do more to protect consumers from robocalls.

ACA International did not respond to a request for comment, but to be 100% fair to them, it was sent to them very early this morning. I will either update this article or publish a separate article should ACA choose to comment.

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