Within the next few months; consumers nationwide should begin to enjoy the effects of new regulations designed to shield them from unwanted calls and texts from telemarketers. That’s what Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff members told State and Local Government officials during a Wednesday afternoon webinar on a wide variety of topics.
Unwanted telemarketer “robocalls” that often come in just around dinnertime, are the number one reason consumers make complaints to the FCC. Under the new rules, which go into effect within the next 60 days; telemarketers will have to get written consent from consumers before they can send texts, or call using automated dialers, and/or prerecorded messages.
The new rules, which cover both wired and wireless phones, also block telemarketers from being able to call consumers without consent if the business they represent had a “previous relationship” with the consumer. Now, the mere fact that a consumer has done some sort of business with that company in the past can no longer be used as a justification for telemarketer calls unless the consumer actually agrees to receive them.
In addition; telemarketers will also now have to provide an automated key-press option that would allow consumers to opt-out from future calls from that particular business while the call is in progress. Kurt Schroeder, head of the FCC’s Consumer Policy Division, explained that this will spare consumers from the hassle and confusion having to try to figure out how to call the telemarketer back, just so they can tell them to stop calling.
But, when it comes to calls from Charities and Political campaigns; the rules are different. Those groups are permitted to make robocalls to landlines, but they are not allowed make them to mobile phones without prior consent. “Prior-consent”, he explained, can be given in a several ways; in writing via regular mail, or online via email or online consent form.
But what about the National Do Not Call Registry? Doesn’t that cover those types of calls? Well, no. Schroeder explained that the registry is designed to shield consumers from live (as opposed to auto-dialed or prerecorded) telemarketing calls to wired (land) lines.
Another big benefit for consumers is on the way from rules that will help people more easily determine when they are getting ripped off through unauthorized charges to their phone bills. The practice, known as “cramming” can result in bogus fees being tacked on for services that consumers never agreed to buy. To make matters worse; they often have had no way of knowing they were being charged (other than by noticing their bills seemed a bit high), because phone carriers were not required to break out the charges in a separate, easily recognizable category on bills.
Now, phone companies are going to be required to tell consumers where the 3rd party charges are coming from; note them separately on the bill; and let consumers know they have the right and ability to actually block them in advance.
As a result, phone companies are not only going to have to more openly and effectively communicate with their customers about cramming; they’re also going to have to stop hiding unauthorized charges by bundling them in with legitimate ones. Because this is going to require changes in billing software and procedures; it’s going to take at least a couple of months to implement.
Other consumer benefits from new FCC regulations include:
- Programs and funding for increased computer literacy and broadband adoption
- A national stolen phone database designed to curb crime
- “Next Generation 9-1-1” technology that will improve and enable response to emergency calls made via mobile/digital devices
- Mobile phone signal boosters that improve connections in rural areas with few cell towers, and “dead zones” in buildings where it’s hard to make calls
- TV Broadcast spectrum incentive auctions aimed at increasing available bandwidth for mobile devices
All of these topics are really interesting, and very complex. Look for follow-up articles discussing them more in-depth sometime soon.