The Chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday announced the release of a Declaratory Ruling that classifies ringless voicemail messages to consumers’ cell phones as calls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, meaning that consumers would have to provide their consent prior to receiving such messages.
The Ruling — which must be approved by the five Commissioners of the FCC — is a response to a petition that was filed seeking the FCC’s approval that ringless voicemails not be considered calls under the TCPA. Interestingly enough, the petition, which was filed back in 2017 by a group called All About The Message, was withdrawn shortly after it was submitted because of criticisms made by consumer advocates and pro-consumer rights members of Congress. At the time, there were comments that the FCC did not want to wade into the debate over how to define what constituted a “call” under the TCPA, instead preferring to leave it to the courts to decide. Apparently, that position has now changed.
Nonetheless, the FCC decided to issue a ruling on the petition anyway, nearly five years after it was originally submitted.
“Ringless voicemail can be annoying, invasive, and can lead to fraud like other robocalls—so it should face the same consumer protection rules,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel in a statement. “No one wants to wade through voicemail spam, or miss important messages because their mailbox is full. This FCC action would continue to empower consumers to choose which parties they give permission to contact them.”
Another group had submitted a similar petition to the FCC last year, seeking clarification on ringless voicemail messages after being sued for using the technology during a political campaign.
The FCC did not say when it will have a vote on the Chairwoman’s proposal. The next meeting is scheduled for February 18, but the ringless voicemail Declaratory Ruling is not yet on the agenda for that meeting.
“Unfortunately, this is another case of a handful of bad actors causing regulators to take sweeping action that affects the good actors using technology for legitimate business purposes,” said Todd Santa Maria, the President of VoApps DirectDrop Voicemail. “Our DirectDrop Voicemail clients have been using our service on consented accounts for years so we have been prepared for this, though I’ll be interested to see if it will actually cut down on the true nuisance and scam voicemails that are the real problem.”