FCC Rules Consent Needed for Ringless Voicemails

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday announced it had issued a declaratory ruling that entities using ringless voicemail products must first obtain the consent of the consumer before using the product to drop voicemails into consumers’ voicemail boxes. The ruling, which the FCC said was unanimous, means that ringless voicemails are considered to be telephone calls as far as the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is concerned.

A copy of the ruling can be accessed by clicking here.

The FCC decided to take up the issue itself, after a petition was filed back in 2017, but subsequently withdrawn. At the time, the petitioner withdrew its request because of significant criticism from consumer advocates and pro-consumer rights members of Congress. The FCC announced earlier this year that it was considering a ruling on the matter and opened the discussion up to comments from the public. There was an “overwhelming” amount of negative comments filed, according to the FCC, leading it to issue yesterday’s ruling.

What this means is that in order for companies to be able to use ringless voicemails, they must have the consent of the consumer to be contacted on his or her cell phone. The ruling goes into effect immediately.

“Imagine finding robocallers leaving junk voicemails on your phone without it ever having
rung,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in a statement. “It’s annoying and it’s happening to too many of us. Today we’re taking action to ensure these deceptive practices don’t find a way around our robocall rules and into consumers’ inboxes.”

Ultimately, the FCC rejected the original petititoner’s argument that the technology is non-invasive. “As the commenters and complainants explain, consumers cannot block these messages and consumers experience an intrusion on their time and their privacy by being forced to spend time reviewing unwanted messages in order to delete them,” the FCC wrote in its ruling. “The consumer’s phone may signal that there is a voicemail message and may ring once before the message is delivered, which is another means of intrusion. Consumers must also contend with their voicemail box filling with unwanted messages, which may prevent other callers from leaving important wanted messages.”

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