The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday approved changes to its telemarketing rules to further limit automatically dialed or prerecorded phone calls known as “robocalls” and automated text messages.
The order expands on Federal Trade Commission rules established in 2008 and requires telemarketers to get written consent from consumers, including by electronic means, before sending recorded marketing messages. It also eliminates the exemption for companies with an “established business relationship” with the consumer, including banks, airlines, insurance companies and telephone carriers.
The rules won’t affect robocalls by political campaigns and nonprofit organizations, and informational calls such as school closings, flight cancellations and fraudulent bank account activity.
“Consumers by the thousands have complained to us” about the calls, which invade people’s privacy and, in the case of calls to wireless numbers, use up their minutes, said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
Unwanted telemarketing calls and texts were consistently in the FCC’s top three consumer complaint categories in 2011. Data on the number of robocalls made daily in the U.S. was not available, officials said.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office received more than 2,000 complaints last year in its “Do not call” unwanted call category, although the number of complaints specifically related to robocalls could not be determined, said spokeswoman Lisa Hackley.
The order will require telemarketers to let consumers revoke previous consent by pressing a few telephone keys during the call. “The telemarketer will have to automatically add the consumer to the company’s do-not-call list and immediately disconnect the call,” Genachowski said.
The rules also limit the number of abandoned or “dead air” calls that telemarketers can make by placing thousands of automated calls simultaneously, often leaving consumers hearing nothing when they pick up because there is no representative available.
The American Teleservices Association, a telemarketing trade group, supported the FCC’s ruling and worked with the agency on the rule-making process, said Phil Grudzinski, chief executive of the nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis.
“The ATA in essence agrees that all telemarketing robocalls should be prohibited without consumer consent to the home phone or to the cell phone,” Grudzinski said.
Political and charitable calls represent about 95 percent of the current teleservices market, Grudzinski said. “There is very little sales solicitation that is going on with prerecorded messages today,” he said.
InfoCision Management Corp., an Akron-based teleservices company with an office in Dayton, specializes in political, Christian and nonprofit fundraising and makes 50 million calls a year, said Gretchen Fri, a company spokeswoman.
Ohio is one of the top five states for telemarketing jobs with 20,700 workers in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not all call center jobs in Ohio are included in that number because some may be listed under “customer service,” ATA officials said.
For political campaigns, robocalls are an inexpensive way to reach large numbers of voters, according to the Pew Research Center. During the 2008 presidential campaign, 39 percent of voters said they had received a prerecorded call about the campaign.
The FCC’s National Do Not Call Registry “still remains one of the best channels” to avoid unwanted calls, Grudzinski said.
Consumers may register their home phone number and wireless numbers for free by calling (888) 382-1222 or going online to www.donotcall.gov.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2419 or dlarsen@DaytonDailyNews.com.