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Federal court strikes down FCC’s 2015 rules against robocalls

Federal court strikes down FCC’s 2015 rules against robocalls

The United States Court of Appeals for the District Columbia has nixed the rules passed by the Federal Communications Commision in 2015 (then under President Barack Obama’s administration). Those rules would have expanded the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits the use of automatic dialers (most widely known as robocallers). According to the federal court, the FCC had proposed a far too broad expanded definition for an autodialer.

Many would see this recent ruling by the federal court as a win for various banking institutions and credit card companies, especially those who are in fear of having to pay up significantly for penalties for making phone calls to their respective customers. As explained by David Schultz, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson who has had experience dealing with TCPA cases, the decision should make it more difficult for people in the future to sue under the TCPA because the definition of an autodialer has been made more specific and narrow.

As argued by the FCC back in 2015, an autodialer can refer to any type of equipment that is capable of dialing phone numbers that are either saved or generated through the use of a random or sequential number generator. Based on this definition, any smartphone can be categorized as an autodialer.

Writing in the federal court’s opinion, Judge Sri Srinivasan pointed out that utilizing this expanded definition would also treat any person who is sending a text message or making a phone call to another using a smartphone, with no prior clear consent, as a person who is breaking the law. Judge Srinivasan then cites an example of a person sending out text invitations for a social gathering -- this process largely does not involve the prior explicit consent of the text message recipient, but under the FCC’s broad definition of an autodialer, this person would be in violation of the TCPA.

Ajit Pai, who currently sits as the Chairman of the FCC, has lauded the federal court’s ruling. Apart from expressing his praise of the decision, Pai also stated that the agency should now put most of its attention in punishing those parties that intentionally flood consumers with truly unwanted robocalls.

The last few months have seen Pai’s FCC show renewed effort in combating robocalls and other potential scam calls. Back in November of last year, the agency has approved new rules that should allow phone companies to take full advantage of solutions that can block robocalls based on the phone numbers being used.