There are already some regulations in place intended to help protect consumers from an onslaught of unwanted phone calls. Those safeguards are routinely inadequate, to the consternation of many households, but they exist.
Those policies, however, refer specifically to calls. What about relatively new technology that empowers those same entities eager to reach you – telemarketers, donation solicitors, et al – by leaving you a voicemail message without your phone ever ringing?
The Boston Globe reported the other day on the emergence of “ringless voicemail.”
Because the technology is relatively new to the market, there has not yet been a specific ruling about whether it is considered acceptable under the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act], leaving the companies that sell and use the services in legal limbo. All About the Message, a ringless voicemail company, has asked the FCC to declare that the existing regulations do not apply to the service.
Consumer advocacy groups, legal aid organizations, and many private citizens argue that these messages constitute the same kind of unwanted intrusion as traditional spam calls and could fill mailboxes, blocking people from receiving messages they actually want to receive…. Ringless voicemail providers, business groups, student loan servicers, and political groups maintain that the messages should be permitted because technically they are not “calls” and incur no charge for the recipient.
What does this have to do with politics? Quite a bit, actually. Slate noted that the Republican National Committee is among the larger entities pushing the FCC to allow companies to send voicemails directly into phone. To block such messages, the RNC has argued, may interfere with political organizations’ right to free speech.
It’s led to headlines like this one in the Washington Post: “Republicans want to let robocallers spam your voicemail.”
The FCC’s public-comment period on ringless voicemail ends tomorrow. The commission won’t be able to punt on the issue: as the Boston Globe’s report noted, an explicit ruling from the FCC appears to be necessary to prevent class-action lawsuits against the company providing the service.