FCC unveils draft limits on autodialer calls

March 15, 2016

WASHINGTON (3/15/16)--The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released some details of a draft rule to exempt autodialer calls to collect federal debt from Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) restrictions. Those federal debts include such things as federal student loans, and Federal Housing Authority and Veterans Administration guaranteed loans.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler included the new details of a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in letters responding to federal lawmakers opposing the new exemption for government debt collectors.

Under the amended TCPA, a call to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the U.S. government will no longer require the prior express consent of the recipient. The exemption applies to calls and texts to cell phone numbers using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS or autodialer) or an artificial or prerecorded voice, and calls to residential phone numbers using an artificial or prerecorded voice.

The law requires the FCC to issue implementing regulations by Aug. 2.

Wheeler wrote in his letter that the draft NPRM includes "clear, pro-consumer restrictions on the type and number of calls a federal creditor may place to recover a delinquent debt, even when those calls go unanswered."

 In particular, the NPRM proposes:

  • That only calls made after a debtor has become delinquent are covered by the exception;
  • To limit the calls to creditors and those calling on their behalf, including debt servicers;
  • That these robocalls can only be made to the debtor, so as to prevent unwanted robocalls to relatives, friends, and other acquaintances of debtors;
  • To limit the number of calls to three per month per delinquency; and
  • To empower consumers with the right to stop calls from a federal creditor at any time and to require callers to inform debtors of this right.

The draft NPRM also makes clear, Wheeler continued, that the new rules will not open a door for telemarketing calls. "The Commission remains steadfast in its defense of protections against unwanted calls. Congress specified that exempted calls must be 'solely' to collect a federal debt, and we will ensure they do not go beyond that boundary."

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) has previously engaged with the FCC about concerns that the TCPA order from the commission last summer will detrimentally impact credit unions and other financial institutions. CUNA also filed an amicus brief in the litigation challenging the order, saying that it “severely restricts the ability of financial institutions and other callers to engage in useful, and often urgent, communications with their customers and members.”

CUNA Deputy Chief Advocacy Officer Elizabeth Eurgubian said Monday, “We plan to file a comment with the FCC, and will continue to express the concerns credit unions have that the TCPA is restricting important communication between credit unions and members.”