Feds Move to Clamp Down on Rampant Robocalls

What’s in a government plan aimed at reining in the telemarketing machine and who is opposing it.

If it works as advertised — and this is always a big if — there may be fewer unwanted calls and texts in your future.

The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a new 20-point plan to clamp down on robocalls, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced. Robocalls, along with robotexts and unwanted telemarketing, generated 215,000 complaints last year alone, Wheeler said in a press release on the FCC blog.

Robocalls are a specific sort of telemarketing, where a computerized autodialer rings you with a pre-recorded message. A number of states already have regulations on the books governing such calls, but this would make a more standardized, nationwide set of regulations.

Wheeler’s proposal is a package of 20 different regulations surrounding the practice. All 20 will be voted on together, in an all-or-nothing decision, June 18.

In general terms, the proposal aims to provide consumers an easier way to opt out of receiving the calls, or, if they had previously permitted the calls, to change their mind and stop receiving them. The idea is to allow them to say “stop” in any reasonable way and at any time, without bureaucracy or complicated procedures. Under the plan, carriers (phone and cable companies) would be allowed to use autodialer blocking technology.

There will also be protections in case you get a phone number that used to belong to someone who allowed the calls. (Are there actually people who like and allow these calls? Who are these people?)

These new regulations would apply to both land lines and cellphones.

There are a handful of exceptions proposed, such as automated calls that let you know there’s a problem with your bank account or that your medication needs to be refilled.

Among those with misgivings about the FCC proposal are political pollsters who view the rules as an existential threat, according to Politico. Their concern, heading into the 2016 campaign, is that they won’t be able to conduct robocall-style phone surveys. Which means the general public might not be able to hear daily updates about which candidate is ahead or behind in the polls. I’m still looking for the downside, here.

The proposals, if adopted, would not affect the Do Not Call registry. That list, started in 2003, is administered by a different government agency.

If approved through a vote at the FCC’s June 18 open meeting, the regulations will go into effect immediately.

Stacy Johnson

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