Volume I • Issue IV

Subscribe to The Newsletter

April 2017

NEW TECHNOLOGY RAISES REGULATORY QUESTIONS
By Dan Rieke, C.E.C.P.

There has been a great deal of talk about ringless voicemail and how it is “revolutionizing” the marketing world! In fact, at a recent marketing conference there were several vendors promoting its virtues.

Ringless voicemail is a method of dropping a prerecorded message into a consumer’s voice mailbox without actually dialing their phone number.

The technology is fairly straightforward. A backlines search is done for the voicemail server associated with a particular phone number. Once the server is located, a prerecorded message is delivered via a call to that server rather than a call to the subscriber’s phone. The subscriber then calls that server to retrieve their voicemail messages. Ringless voicemail.

Several companies offer this marketing service, and all of them claim it’s totally legal and not a violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Despite the fanfare, though, most marketing departments are choosing to steer clear of the new tool until it’s vetted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In response to an FCC request for an expedited ruling by Atlanta-based technology company VoApps in July of 2014, the commission issued a public notice seeking comment on this technology. The FCC has not yet issued a Declaratory Ruling, but it’s expected that one will be issued this year because of the increased attention on issue.

While the ringless voicemail methodology does not, on the surface, appear to violate the TCPA rules for auto-dialed or prerecorded calls to wireless numbers (without prior express written consent), nor the Telemarketing Sales Rule regarding do-not-call registrants, there is a core concern raised by the FCC in this matter which may curtail its unrestricted use in marketing. As the commission stated, “Whether the consumer’s ability to determine whether, when, and how to retrieve voicemail messages from VoApps’ service preserves the TCPA’s core purposes of protecting consumer privacy and avoiding disruptions to consumers’ lives.”

The FCC has a long history of addressing new communications technologies and their relationship to consumer interests. With the July 2015 Declaratory Ruling, for instance, they expanded the scope of “auto-dialer” restrictions by embracing advancing technology.

We saw similar treatments concerning text messaging and avatar technology as these innovations came into vogue. Historically, the FCC has continued to address these innovations from the fundamental Congressional intent underlying TCPA, which are consumer privacy and convenience.

The FCC will certainly consider that, in the event they do exempt ring-less voice mail from TCPA, there would follow a flood of marketing outreach using that methodology. Many phone subscribers have limited voicemail storage and it’s not hard to see the scenarios where important messages, even emergency messages, could not be left for a subscriber because their voice message box was overflowing with advertising.

Indeed, this situation has probably already occurred. If the FCC issues a negative ruling on ring-less voicemail, we can imagine a raft of class action lawsuits popping up surrounding the issue, costing companies big money in settlements and defense even if the FCC also provides a grace period for compliance.

We welcome the advancement of technology with regard to customer engagement, but it’s important to be smart about one’s marketing outreach. All Global Resources specializes in bring compliance and marketing together in a secure and viable package.