A Busy Summer at the FCC: The Commission Releases Its Fax Waiver Order

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On August 28, 2015, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (“Bureau”), on authority delegated from the Federal Communications Commission, released an Order (“August 28 Order”) granting 117 petitions seeking a retroactive waiver of the opt-out notice requirement for solicited faxes (47 C.F.R § 64.1200(a)(4)(iv)).  The August 28 Order was the first time since the October 30, 2014 Fax Order (reported on here, wherein the FCC retroactively waived the applicability of Section 64.1200(a)(4)(iv) as to 24 petitioners, and invited similarly-situated parties to file petitions of their own requesting the same relief) that the Bureau addressed the applicability of Section 64.1200(a)(4)(iv).  The petitions granted on August 28 were filed between September 30, 2014, and June 16, 2015.

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FCC Warns that Unilateral PayPal User Agreement Changes May Violate the TCPA

In advance of the FCC’s highly anticipated June 18 meeting, during which it is likely to vote on an omnibus order disposing of a wide range of pending petitions for declaratory ruling, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau took an early shot across the bow at a proposed change to  PayPal Inc.’s User Agreement. In an unusual move, the Bureau sent a public letter to PayPal warning it that its new broad “consent to contact” provision may violate the TCPA.

The updates to the User Agreement authorize PayPal to contact a consumer by “autodialed or prerecorded calls and text messages … at any telephone number provided … or otherwise obtained” in order to notify the consumer about his or her account, to troubleshoot problems, or resolve a dispute, collect a debt, poll for opinions, to contact a consumer with promotions, or “as otherwise necessary.” The terms lack an opt-out mechanism for consumers who do not wish to receive these calls. Further, PayPal’s PayPal’s Policy Updates page uses bold and capital letters to make consent to contact a condition of use: “IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO THE AMENDED USER AGREEMENT, PRIVACY POLICY OR ACCEPTABLE USE POLICY, YOU MAY CLOSE YOUR ACCOUNT BEFORE JULY 1, 2015 AND YOU WILL NOT BE BOUND BY THE AMENDED TERMS.”

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What’s the Purpose of the Emergency Purpose Statutory Exemption?

As we’ve noted in the past, there are a number of TPCA petitions for declaratory ruling or requests for interpretation of the TCPA statute or FCC rules on a range of issues relating to the definition of an autodialer, seeking a range of common sense rules or processes for dealing with recycled number issues, among others. A recently filed Petition, by Blackboard, Inc. (“Blackboard”), represents a new wrinkle in the fabric of interesting technological and practical challenges under the TCPA that can adversely affect the delivery of important and timely information to parties interested in receiving it.   Blackboard is an educational services platform provider seeking clarification from the FCC that the TCPA does not apply to “informational, non-commercial, non-advertising, and non-telemarketing autodialed and prerecorded messages sent by Blackboard’s educational institution customers because those calls are made for ‘emergency purposes.’”

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Pending TCPA Petitions (Grouped by Primary Subject Matter)

As 2015 begins, we thought that providing a roundup of and the links to pending FCC TCPA petitions might be useful. The list includes most pending petitions filed since the FCC’s revised TCPA rules came into effect, with the exclusion of the many “blast fax” petitions for retroactive relief. We have grouped the petitions by primary subject matter (consent, ATDS definition, or other). We will update this list periodically.

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The FCC’s Clarification of its Blast Fax Rules to “Solicited” Fax Ads under Siege

In an attempt to clear out the backlog of numerous pending petitions addressing how the FCC’s “Blast Fax” rules apply to consensual fax advertisement transmissions, the agency on October 30, 2014 issued an Order addressing the need for and form of opt-out notices required for fax ads. The FCC’s rules since 2006 have contained a requirement that opt-out information be displayed on the faxed ad and that that notification requirement applies to both solicited fax ads, which are sent with the recipients’ prior express permission or invitation, and to non-solicited fax ad transmissions. A large number of Blast Fax lawsuits have involved fax ads reportedly sent with prior express consent but that may have lacked the required FCC opt-out notification or that failed to use the exact language the FCC rule appeared to require. Many defendants in these lawsuits beat a path to the FCC seeking either relief from or clarification of opt-out requirements, claiming in some cases confusion about when opt-out notices were in fact required.

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Eighth Circuit Reverses Summary Judgment, Directs Trial Court to Determine Whether Consent Was Revoked

In an unpublished, per curiam decision, the Eighth Circuit recently reversed the entry of summary judgment in favor of a defendant and directed the district court to address whether the plaintiff had revoked his consent to being called on his cell phone. Brenner v. Am. Ed. Servs., No. 14-1340, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 18416 (8th Cir. Sept. 26, 2014).

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FCC Seeks Comment on Petition Concerning Prior Express Consent

On August 1, 2014, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a petition filed by Santander Consumer USA, Inc. (“Santander”), which requests an expedited declaratory ruling from the FCC to clarify the meaning of “prior express consent” with respect to non-telemarketing calls and text messages to cellular telephones, which include informational messages (e.g., messages regarding school closings or messages containing flight status information) and debt collection messages under the TCPA. Comments in response to the Public Notice are due September 2, 2014, and reply comments are due September 15, 2014.

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