This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made “crystal clear” that ringless voicemail is subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and to the same rules prohibiting callers from making calls to cellphones without consumers first providing consent.
In a Declaratory Ruling, the FCC highlighted comments submitted by NCLC, writing, “We thus agree with commenter National Consumer Law Center, for example, that ringless voicemail messages are calls for purposes of the TCPA even though they are not traditional handset-to-handset communications.”
In October of 2021, NCLC led a group of national organizations in submitting comments to the FCC opposing a petition of Perdue for Senate, Inc (GA) to exempt ringless voicemails from TCPA protections. Technologically, ringless voicemail messages are unquestionably calls to cellphones, the comments asserted, as the cellphone telephone number must be used to deliver the message, and the wireless network is used by the recipient to access the message. The technology is identical to that used for texts, so there is no technological or legal reason for them not to be covered by the same rules under the TCPA.
“Ringless voicemail messages are just as invasive, expensive, and annoying as calls and texts to cellphones,” said Margot Saunders, senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in a press release. Exempting ringless voicemail messages from the TCPA would have allowed all sorts of unwanted messages. “For many of us, our voicemail boxes would become useless, as they would be filled with unstoppable ringless voicemail,” Saunders warned.
In a March 2020 filing in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants, advocates at NCLC and Consumer Federation of America, along with Verizon, warned that ringless voicemails can congest service providers’ networks and voicemail systems, and that consumers and small business owners have expressed alarm about ringless voicemails because they clog voicemail boxes, potentially preventing customers from receiving wanted—and potentially crucial—messages.
Beyond clogged inboxes and crowded networks, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel noted in a statement accompanying the ruling that “ringless voicemail can lead to the same kind of fraud that flourishes with scam robocalls.”
The FCC’s ruling upholds the TCPA as an essential tool to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, texts, and ringless voicemails to our cellphones.