Ringless voicemail spam won’t be exempt from anti-robocall rules

A petition to exempt ringless voicemails from anti-robocall rules has been withdrawn after heavy opposition.

In March, a marketing company called All About the Message petitioned the Federal Communications Commission for a ruling that would prevent anti-robocall rules from applying to ringless voicemails. But the company withdrew its petition without explanation in a letter to the FCC last week, even though the commission hadn’t yet ruled on the matter.

As the name suggests, a ringless voicemail is the delivery of a voice message to a voicemail box without ringing the recipient’s phone. The now-withdrawn petition asked the FCC to declare that this type of message does not count as a “call” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits non-emergency calls made with auto-dialers, artificial voices, or prerecorded voices without the “prior express consent of the called party.”

Democrats and consumer advocates led opposition

The Republican National Committee supported All About the Message’s petition, claiming that it has a First Amendment right to use direct-to-voicemail technology without any TCPA restrictions.

Senate Democrats opposed the petition, saying that it would allow “telemarketers, debt collectors, and other callers [to] bombard Americans with unwanted voicemails, leaving consumers with no way to block or stop these intrusive messages.”

Consumer advocacy groups also opposed the petition, and many individual consumers filed comments on the docket asking the FCC to reject All About the Message’s request. The controversy had an unfortunate consequence for a separate company in the UK that is also called All About the Message. This small UK company posted a notice on its website explaining that it is entirely separate from the ringless voicemail company, and the group asked people to stop contacting them about the FCC petition.

The “All About the Message” company that petitioned the FCC is based in Wyoming and describes itself as a white label distributor of ringless voicemail technology built by Stratics Networks. We contacted All About the Message’s attorney today about the petition’s withdrawal and will provide a response if we get one.

While the petition’s withdrawal seems to close the matter for now, there could be more attempts to exempt ringless voicemail from anti-robocall rules in the future.

Another provider called VoApps asked the FCC to clarify that ringless voicemail doesn’t violate anti-robocall rules in 2014, but it did not receive a ruling. Another company called TT of Pine Ridge that was hit with a proposed class-action lawsuit this year filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that “a direct to voicemail service platform is not covered by the TCPA,” and thus the company “did not ‘make a call'” as defined by US law. The parties in that case agreed to a settlement.

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