Opinion: FCC Harmed Businesses, Consumers, with Auto-Dial Decision

Asenath Horton
Asenath Horton

By Asenath Horton

A 3-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in June means everything to contact centers and the employees who rely on them for jobs. “The decision is exactly as the FCC’s very own commissioner described it: a ‘farce,’ and rooted in one of the worst documents ever seen by industry professionals,” said Art Coombs, CEO of KomBea, a leading contact center company.

How it happened – it’s simple.

It was a vote. The FCC decided, on party lines, to approve an order to expand the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) beyond its statutory meaning. It has created a dangerous landscape for any company that does business over the phone – TCPA litigation has dramatically spiked in recent years. Now, almost every call between employees and its customers will become a potential TCPA violation.

It’s superfluous, what happened.

Equipment was deemed an automatic telephone dialing system by the FCC if it has the capacity to dial any number. The ruling even interprets the term “capacity” in the definition of Automatic Telephone Dialing System (ATDS) as not unbounded or so broad as to make any equipment that can dial a number an ATDS, Deputy Chief John Adams admitted.

What will happen is shameful.

The vote has changed the definition of ATDS because every Smartphone, tablet, VoIP phone, calling app, texting app and any phone that’s not a rotary dial phone will be that system. Equipment that could function as an auto-dialer constitutes an ATDS today.

Just how expansive is the new definition? A rotary phone – that’s what was used as an example of technology that would not be covered. (A rotary phone!)

If this all wasn’t too much, the ruling also means that the TCPA doesn’t require the consent of the intended recipient of the call, and businesses will have only one opportunity to call a reassigned number before facing liability. The order makes the situation for good faith actors worse.

Sordidly, the key components of the decision reiterate that text messages are considered calls under the TCPA; that phone services providers can now offer robocall blocking services and technology; and that consumers who previously consented to receive calls from a business may revoke that consent through any undefined means.

What’s happening is sickening to customers and employees.

Alexandria Evensen purchased many of the products offered through the calls. She has maintained that getting contacted by any of the companies that FCC hampers was never a problem. “Usually, I appreciated it,” she said. “I never would have hoped for an attack on these great employers. I know that they make it possible for so many folks to make a living.”

Garren Hunt couldn’t be more disappointed. Hunt, a contact center agent, now is uncertain about getting the next meal to his children. “With mouths to feed, the last thing I want to do is lose my job,” Hunt told me. “That’s the reality I face without the ability to reach customers as often.”

Contact center employers have been exposed to abusive class action lawsuits. Employees’ ability to reach customers has been crippled. Customers have been forfeited opportunities to purchase helpful products. Overall, the livelihoods of millions threatened as contact centers are paralyzed.

Sadly, all we can do is move forward. It has been recommended to business owners to immediately take all necessary steps to get in line.

As Coombs said, “The FCC officials who voted for approval were playing a game. The winners? Lawyers who are already well off. The losers? Call center agents who we are trying to help make ends meet. We might just be able to pull it off without these sorts of games coming out of Washington.”

Asenath Horton enjoys writing about the intersection of business and politics. She currently owns Salt City Roofers and City Launch PR and is a Utah delegate at Vision 2020, which is seeking to achieve women’s economic and social equality by the year 2020.

**Guest Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UPC. Want to submit your own? Click Here. We accept submissions from all Utah residents, regardless of political affiliation.

**Editorial Note: UPC Editor-in-Chief, Curtis Haring, is employed by a company affected by the FCC’s decision.

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