FCC says consent is required for ringless voicemails
On November 21, the FCC issued a declaratory ruling that entities using ringless voicemail products must first obtain a consumer's consent prior to using the product to leave voicemails. According to the FCC, it receives “dozens of consumer complaints annually related to ringless voicemail.” The unanimous ruling establishes that ringless voicemails are “calls” that require consumers’ prior express consent, and further clarifies that a ringless voicemail is a form of a robocall, and therefore subject to the TCPA robocall prohibition, which prohibits making any non-emergency call with an automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to a wireless telephone number without the prior express consent of the called party.
The FCC’s declaratory ruling denied a 2017 petition filed by a company that distributes technology that permits voicemail messages to be delivered directly to consumers’ voicemail services. The petitioner argued that ringless messages, and the process by which the ringless voicemail is deposited on a carrier’s platform, is neither a call made to a mobile telephone number nor a call for which a consumer is charged and, therefore, is a service that is not regulated. The FCC rejected the petitioner’s argument that ringless voicemail is not a TCPA call because it does not pass through a consumer’s phone line and that the TCPA protects only calls made directly to a wireless handset, and does not result in a charge to the consumer for the delivery of the voicemail message. The ruling noted that “consumers cannot block these messages and consumers experience an intrusion on their time and their privacy by being forced to spend time reviewing unwanted messages in order to delete them.” The ruling also noted that a “consumer’s phone may signal that there is a voicemail message and may ring once before the message is delivered, which is another means of intrusion. Consumers must also contend with their voicemail box filling with unwanted messages, which may prevent other callers from leaving important wanted messages.” According to a statement by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the rule makes it “crystal clear" that ringless voicemails are subject to the TCPA and that the Commission's rules "prohibit callers from sending this kind of junk without consumers first giving their permission to be contacted this way.”