CMD Opposes Gutting of Telemarketing Regulations

The Center for Media and Democracy is asking Congress to reject a bill that could "open up everyone's cell phones, land lines, and business phone numbers, without their consent, to a flood of commercial, marketing and debt collection calls," according to a letter signed by the Center and a number of public interest groups. The Mobile International Call Act of 2011 amends the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a statute that regulates telemarketing and limits telephone solicitations and robo-calls. The bill purportedly makes sensible updates to the TCPA to allow consumers to be notified about fraud, appointment cancellations, drug recalls, late payments, and the like. However, other provisions of the bill would allow businesses to make pre-recorded robo-calls "for any commercial purpose that is not a solicitation." This applies to any consumer's cell phone, even for those that have placed themselves on the Do-Not-Call list. The bill also exempts modern automated predictive dialers from the TCPA, "permitting repetitive 'phantom' calls to cell phones doctor's offices, hospital rooms and pagers."

In addition, the bill changes an existing exception to the current restrictions on robo-calling that allows robo-calls to be made if the consumer provides "prior express consent." The definition of "prior express consent" is changed to permit robo-calls if the consumer provides their telephone number "as a means of contact" during a purchase or "at any point." The letter argues that this is problematic because "even if the telephone number was provided for a limited, one-time purpose the business would be deemed to have consented to robo-calls into the future."

The letter states that if the bill becomes law, consumers will be "hounded on their cell phones" even if they own a landline that could be used, draining people's cell phone minutes. Increased frequency of robo-calls also threatens public safety because cell phone users who use their phones only for emergencies will be prone to answer when their phone rings, making them more susceptible to distraction while driving.

The letter concludes that Congress ought to abandon the bill: "H.R. 3035 is not only unnecessary, it will effectively gut the Telephone Consumer Protection Act's essential protections against invasion of privacy, nuisance and harassing calls." The organizations that signed onto the letter include: Americans for Financial Reform, Citizens for Civil Discourse (The National Political Do Not Contact Registry), the Center for Media and Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients), Privacy Activism, the Privacy Rights Now Coalition, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group.