New Petition Seeking FCC Clarification That Calls Using Soundboard Technology Are Not “Entirely Prerecorded Calls” Prohibited By the TCPA

The FCC’s TCPA docket now has two pending petitions for declaratory ruling on the question as to whether outbound telemarketing calls made through soundboard technology are prohibited communications if made without prior consent under the TCPA. As we predicted in April 2019, industries using soundboard technology to streamline their telemarketing operations are increasing their efforts before the FCC in seeking review of this very issue.

The FCC recently issued a Public Notice seeking comments on a Petition for Declaratory Ruling filed by Yodel Technologies, a Florida-based company providing other entities with outbound telemarketing services using soundboard technology. The Yodel Petition “fully supports” “a currently pending Petition for Emergency Declaratory Ruling filed by NorthStar Alarm Services, LLC, that sets forth a litany of persuasive reasons why the Commission should rule that use of soundboard technology does not violate the TCPA.” The Yodel Petition also “submits its own justifications” to assist the FCC in reaching this conclusion or, alternatively, in waiving application of any rules prohibiting soundboard technology prior to May 12, 2017.

According to Yodel, as “calls using recorded audio clips specifically selected and presented by a human operator in real-time,” soundboard technology should not be considered “prerecorded voice message.” Yodel argues that the FCC’s 1992 TCPA Report and Order implied that prerecorded voice message only refers to calls and messages that are entirely prerecorded. In support, it observes that the FCC has always been and has only been using examples of fully automated calls when discussing TCPA implementing rules in the past twenty-seven years.Yodel’s Petition emphasizes that a caller’s ability to “ascertain the propriety of proceeding with a message” is an important characteristic in distinguishing between live and prerecorded calls – a view supported by case law in the Ninth Circuit. As such, Yodel advocated that outbound calls using soundboard technology would not be prerecorded calls when live operators would remain “available to interact with every called party from inception.”

After the Supreme Court declined in April 2019 to review a challenge to a Federal Trade Commission decision treating outbound telemarketing calls made through soundboard technology as robocalls, a wave of litigation ensued. Many federal courts, including the Eleventh Circuit (with appellate jurisdiction over Florida), have not examined soundboard technology in the context of TCPA claims in the past. Others have not had a consistent view on soundboard technology. As Yodel put it, clarity is needed because of the “serious reliance interests at stake.”

Interested parties have until October 21, 2019 to submit comments to the FCC on the Petition. Reply comments are due on November 4, 2019. Drinker Biddle’s TCPA team will continue to monitor this docket and related developments.

FCC Amends Its Caller ID Rules to Broaden their Scope and Effect

The FCC on August 1 voted to adopt enhanced Truth in Caller ID rules that will subject a broader range of “spoofed” calls to new heftier statutory civil penalty and potentially criminal sanctions for willful and knowing violations of these FCC requirements. Companies using spoofing technology should have until early 2020 to assess their operations to ensure compliance prior to these amended rules taking effect.

At its Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (R&O) to amend the current Truth in Caller ID rules. The text of the adopted version of the R&O was released on August 5, 2019 and largely remains unchanged since the release of the draft Second R&O. It appears that the rules adopted build upon the framework the FCC proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from in February 2019 (click here for our earlier summary of the Notice). Overall, the Second R&O mirrors most of the FCC’s original proposals. The differences we highlight below are relatively technical, reflecting the FCC’s attempt to grapple with and clarify the scope of rule changes in light of foreseeable business use cases that may cause problems that the RAY BAUM’S Act intended to prevent.

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Comment Cycle Begins for the FCC’s Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on “Call Blocking by Default” Regime And SHAKEN/STIR Implementation Deadline

On June 24, 2019, the FCC’s adopted Declaratory Ruling and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Third FNPRM”) was published in the Federal Register, triggering the commenting period deadlines. We previously discussed in detail the various components of the Third FNPRM here and here. Comments on this Third FNPRM are due by Wednesday, July 24, 2019, and reply comments are due by Friday, August 23, 2019. Drinker Biddle’s TCPA team will continue to monitor this docket and related developments as they become available.

The Next Round of the FCC’s “Call Blocking by Default” Approach Kicks off with a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

By directing voice service providers to deal with “unwanted calls” as part of its anti-robocall policies, the FCC seems to have moved well beyond addressing “illegal and spoofed robocalls.” The text of the FCC’s new “Call Blocking by Default” approach was released late on June 7, 2019, which, as we previously predicted, contains several changes to the draft version of the Declaratory Ruling and Third Further Proposed Rulemaking (the Third FNPRM). Depending upon your point of view, the Third FNPRM contains either a few hopeful signs that the FCC understands and is willing to address the practical effects of its highly consequential blocking edict, or troubling confirmation that it has little idea of what it has unleashed on businesses and consumers. Continue reading   »

FCC Adopts Controversial Declaratory Ruling Encouraging “Call Blocking By Default”

Voice service providers soon may dictate which calls will reach you. The FCC  honed in on “unwanted calls” when it voted at its Open Meeting today to adopt a Declaratory Ruling and Third Further Proposed Rulemaking (the Third FNPRM) permitting voice service providers to implement “Call Blocking by Default.”  We are awaiting and will report on the ruling and notice when it is released.  Continue reading   »

Do B2C Telephone Communications Now Need to Win the Popularity Contest to Not Be Preemptively Blocked?

Businesses may dial large volumes of numbers daily for a variety of legitimate purposes. These calls now appear to have become swept up and conflated with illegal robocalls, with a number of undesirable consequences. Certainly policy makers at the FCC, in reacting to understandable concerns about fraudulent and illegal calling, have been introducing more and more opportunities for voice service and app providers to apply non-transparent, subjective standards to block calls, and further muddy the water for business callers. Continue reading   »

Comment Cycle Begins for the FCC’s Proposed Amendment to Truth in Caller ID Rules

Yesterday, the FCC’s adopted Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to amend its Truth in Caller ID Rules was published in the Federal Register, triggering the commenting period deadlines. We previously compared the adopted NPRM with the draft document here and provided an overview of the proposed key provisions here. Comments on this NPRM are due by Wednesday, April 3, 2019, and reply comments are due by Friday, May 3, 2019. Commenters should follow the filing instructions provided in paragraph 40 of the NPRM. Drinker Biddle’s TCPA team will continue to monitor this docket and related developments as they become available.

FCC Adopted Proposed Amendment to Truth in Caller ID Rules

Since Chairman Ajit Pai took office, combatting illegal robocalls and malicious spoofing has become the FCC’s top consumer protection priority. In anticipation of yesterday’s Open Commission Meeting, Chairman Pai issued another press release on Wednesday, calling for “a robust caller authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing” and criticizing carriers that lacked commitment to deploy the SHAKEN/STIR framework by the end of 2019. Between Chairman Pai’s 2018 demands that the FCC make real progress in call authentication and yesterday’s Open Meeting to vote on its draft Proposed Rulemaking to amend existing Truth in Caller ID Rules, Chairman Pai solicited details from several large telecommunications carriers about their caller ID authentication plans. These carriers’ submissions are available here.
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FCC Receives Comments on Definition of ATDS Following the Ninth Circuit’s Decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego, LLC

We previously described the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Marks v. Crunch San Diego which, contrary to the D.C. Circuit’s ACA International ruling in March of this year, treated the definition of an ATDS expansively, holding that that statutory definition of an ATDS includes equipment that has the capacity (1) to store numbers to be called or (2) to produce numbers to be called, using a random or sequential number generator. We explained how the Ninth Circuit’s decision represented an improper interpretation of the ATDS statutory language. And we previously reported how the FCC sought expedited public comment on the Marks decision. Continue reading   »

Industry Groups Urge FCC to Clarify ATDS After ACA Int’l

On May 3, 2018, a broad range of 18 industry groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce petitioned the FCC to take much-needed action to curb abusive TCPA litigation stemming from prior FCC and court interpretations of the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”). The petition naturally followed from the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA Int’l v. Fed. Commc’ns Comm’n, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018) to vacate the FCC’s ATDS interpretation contained in the 2015 FCC Declaratory Ruling and Order (“2015 TCPA Order”) as unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious. The petitioners seek clarity on the definition of an ATDS so businesses can better understand how they can effectively communicate with their customers without fear of liability under Section 227(b) of the TCPA. Continue reading   »