Ringless Voicemail Classified as Calls Under TCPA

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Ringless voicemails have always been a thorn in our sides, but now they’re also a thorn in the FCC’s side. The Federal Communications Commission has determined that these silent voicemails are covered by the same Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) rules that forbid robocalls without consent. Companies need your permission to leave these junk messages as they’re still considered calls, the FCC says.

The ruling takes effect today. The finding comes five years after marketers first asked for exemptions to the regulations surrounding ringless voicemails, the FCC says.

The requests, from All About the Message and two other petitioners, reportedly drew “overwhelming” negative feedback from public commenters.

The Commission added that it receives “dozens” of complaints about these voicemails each year. FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel proposed extending the TCPA to this spam in February.

As with other robocall crackdowns, there’s no guarantee the voicemails will stop. Spammers may find alternate avenues to deliver these messages, and the FCC can only do so much to limit spam originating outside.

“Ringless voicemail can be annoying, invasive, and can lead to fraud like other robocalls so it should face the same consumer protection rules,” said Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “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.”

The FCC based its ringless voicemail decision on precedent; specifically, on the fact that it had previously found that computer-generated text messages are calls for purposes of the TCPA. Similarly, the ruling explains that ringless voicemails are calls despite the fact that they are “not traditional handset-to-handset communications.”

In arriving at its decision, the FCC reasons that ringless voicemails function identically to Internet-to-phone text messaging that is already subject to the TCPA. With both ringless voicemail and Internet-to-phone texts, a number assigned to each consumer is “necessary” and serve as a “unique identifier,” the FCC detailed. Additionally, the steps involved in sending ringless voicemail are substantially the same as the steps involved in sending mass texts and text-to-email address texts.

Holding that a ringless voicemail message is a call subject to the TCPA is also consistent with the ordinary meaning of the word “call,” which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “to communicate with or try to get into communication with a person by a telephone.” In addition, the FCC cited the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Satterfield, held that the TCPA is triggered by the act of placing a call not by whether a party answers a call.

The FCC noted that its finding is consistent with the legislative history and purpose of the TCPA. In adopting the TCPA, Congress specifically found that “automated or prerecorded calls are a nuisance and an invasion of privacy, regardless of the type of call.”

This is just further proof that RVM cannot be used to contact a cell phone without express consent. While there may be arguments to the contrary, don’t believe any phonies who tell you RVM technology is safe and/or TCPA compliant.

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