FCC details planned limits on government robocalls

Government debt collectors could only robocall a person three times per month and would have to stop calling when asked to do so, according to a draft proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

The FCC released more details of the draft proposal circulated among the commissioners last month. The new details were included in a series of letters to members of Congress, who opposed a new exemption for government debt collectors and urged the FCC to at least create strict limits on those robocalls. 

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“The draft NPRM includes clear, pro-consumer restrictions on the type and number of calls a federal creditor may place to recover a delinquent debt, even when those calls go unanswered,” Wheeler wrote in letters to dozens of lawmakers. 

The letters were sent late last month but made public Thursday night. 

A budget deal approved last year included a small provision that exempted the government from laws that bar most automated or prerecorded calls from going to a cellphone. Government robocalls were exempted if they were solely made to collect debt, which many saw as a plan aimed at those with student loan debt. 

A series of Democrats were furious that the provision snuck into the budget deal, however, after the Obama administration pushed for the exemption. The FCC was tasked with coming up with some limits by Aug. 2. 

Under the draft rules, robocalls can only be made to the person who holds the debt, so family and friends cannot be harassed. It also limits those calls to three per month. The calls also cannot be made to remind people that they are close to becoming delinquent. 

Government debt collectors would also have to inform callers of their right to ask for the calls to stop. 

Wheeler said the FCC developed the draft with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It also reached out to the Treasury Department and the Education Department. 

Some Democrats have called for the rules to go further to bar “servicers” of government debt to make the calls. They have also asked to bar debt collection calls if the government hands off the debt to a third-party. 

In his letter, Wheeler said the calls are limited to “creditors and those calling on their behalf, including debt servicers.”