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Technology & Entrepreneurship

FCC Considers Allowing Direct-to-Voicemail Messages

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The Federal Communications Commission is considering giving a waiver to a company that wants to put voice messages into your voicemail without your phone ever ringing. 

The waiver would be necessary to get around the Telephone Consumers Protection Act (TCPA). It was passed in 1991, and it made many things illegal, including unsolicited robocalls to your cell phone.

The marketing company All About The Message, LLC says it wants to use new technology that doesn't ring your phone to deliver messages to your voicemail. It believes since the phone doesn't ring, the server-to-server exchange isn't telephone-based, and therefore doesn't fall under the TCPA.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce agrees and filed comments in support of the petition.

"We don't believe that the FCC has the authority to expand the TCPA to encompass new technologies, says the Chamber's Bryan Quigley. "Only Congress has that authority, " he continues.

Quigley isn't a fan of robocalls, "I don't think anyone likes getting mass solicitations," he says. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce doesn't endorse this technology. But he argues this isn't robocalling and the TCPA shouldn't include it.

"So the last thing that consumers need is another way to have their privacy invaded," says Consumers' Union Policy Fellow Maureen Mahoney. She says one of the big reasons this law was passed was because people's lives were being disrupted. 

Mahoney says ring-less messaging is just as bad as robo-texting, which the FCC has already ruled on.

"I would argue the FCC has recognized that robo-texts are just as invasive, and it's the same technology they use to send robo-texts, they can send out thousands if not millions of messages at once with the potential of overwhelming your voicemail," says Mahoney.

Not only are these messages just as disruptive as the illegal robocall, they could cost people money, says Mahoney. 75 million people rely on pre-paid minute plans according to industry estimates. These customers would have to use minutes wade through potential spam calls to get to the messages they want to hear.

The FCC public comment period ends June 2.