Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

NY Attorney General Joins Fight to Keep ‘Ringless Robocalls’ Off Your Phones

June 8, 2017

As published by Gothamist, on June 5, 2017.

Attorney Generals from New York, Massachusetts and Kentucky are joining forces to protest a petition that’s trying to make “ringless robocalls” exempt from consumer protections under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. NY AG Eric Schneiderman said, “New Yorkers are already the victims of countless unwanted phone solicitations. The federal government has a basic responsibility to protect American consumers. That certainly doesn’t mean making it even easier for companies to spam them with costly, unsolicited, ringless robocalls.”

The NY Times tackled the incredibly annoying phenomenon in a recent article—you know, when you suddenly notice there’s a new voicemail on your cellphone but you didn’t even hear/feel the phone ring even though you’ve been holding it the entire time! The companies behind the surprise messages are claiming that since they aren’t technically calls, they don’t need to heed consumer marketing laws. From the Times:

But consumer advocates, technology experts, people who have been inundated with these calls and the lawyers representing them say such an exemption would open the floodgates. Consumers’ voice mail boxes would be clogged with automated messages, they say, making it challenging to unearth important calls, whether they are from an elderly mother’s nursing home or a child’s school.

If unregulated, ringless voice mail messages “will likely overwhelm consumers’ voice mail systems and consumers will have no way to limit, control or stop these messages,” Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, wrote in the organization’s comment letter to the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of more than a dozen consumer groups. “Debt collectors could potentially hijack a consumer’s voice mail with collection messages.”

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), the FCC says, “restricts the making of telemarketing calls and the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice message.”

The FCC is accepting public comments about changes to the TCPA, and the letter from the attorney generals (PDF) notes that people aren’t able to block the “unwanted messages.” Those who rely on prepaid cellphones or have limited minutes would incur expenses while checking the voicemails.

Among the supporters of the ringless voicemail: The Republican National Committee, which, CBS News reports, “said regulating the practice might affect political outreach campaigns.” RNC chief counsel told the FCC, “Needlessly subjecting voicemails to (current restrictions) would sweep in, restrict and chill nonintrusive political messages delivered to voicemail servers — including to individuals who expect and desire political communications. (Prohibiting them) would raise significant constitutional issues and must be rejected.”

One Delaware resident told the Times how he was fed up with the messages: “When I checked my voice mail, it made me really angry. It was literally a telemarketing voice mail to try to sell telemarketing systems.”