Consumers Union Applauds FCC For Adopting Rules That Help Limit Loophole’s Impact
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued new rules today to implement a loophole in the federal telecommunications law that will allow debt collectors to make robocalls to consumers on their cell phones. Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, opposed the loophole when it was approved by Congress last year, but praised the FCC for adopting rules that will help limit its negative impact.
“Congress never should have given the green light to more robocalls to cell phones by undermining federal protections against such calls,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Fortunately, the FCC’s rule puts limits on such calls that will help blunt the impact of this misguided loophole.”
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibits most non-emergency robocalls to cell phones but a provision in last year’s budget bill weakened the law by allowing debt collectors to make such calls when the debt is owed to, or even just guaranteed by, the federal government. Under the provision passed by Congress, debt collectors can make harassing robocalls to millions of Americans with education, mortgage, tax, and other federally-backed debt.
To make matters worse, the provision raised concerns that it could lead to robocalls not only to those who owe debt, but also their family, references, and even to someone who happens to get assigned a phone number that once belonged to another person who owed debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt collection loophole will generate an estimated $500,000 per year at the most for the federal government over the next ten years.
Under the rule issued by the FCC today, debt collectors are limited to making just three robocalls or texts each month to the debtor. They are prohibited from contacting the debtor’s family members or references and are limited to just one call to a “reassigned” number. Debt collectors are required to inform consumers that they have the right to ask that the calls cease and must honor those requests.
In late July, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent letters to nation’s major phone companies calling on them to offer their customers free tools to block unwanted calls and gave them 30 days to respond with a plan for doing so.
For the past year, Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign (www.endrobocalls.org) has worked to bring relief to consumers fed up with robocalls. The campaign has mobilized hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country to demand that the nation’s top phone companies offer their customers free call-blocking tools to stop unwanted robocalls. So far, over 600,000 people have signed Consumers Union’s petition urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to take action.
Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.