FCC Chairman: Polling calls don’t rise to level of fraud alerts

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said political surveys and push polls are a little different from fraud and health alerts. 

The FCC voted Thursday on a series of proposals that would make it harder for companies to send robocalls and text messages to people’s homes and mobile phones. Wheeler used the fraud and health alert comparison to justify why political calls were not exempt.  

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Within the ruling approved Thursday is a carve out for banks and healthcare providers to make autodialed or prerecorded calls to alert customers of possible fraud on bank accounts or information about a prescription. No exemption for political calls was included.

Wheeler said reporting fraud on your bank account is “a little different than, ‘Hello, tell me who you will vote for,’ or ‘Hello, let me do a push poll.’ That is a little different from, ‘Hello, you have a health emergency.’ ”

Pollsters and other political groups have long complained about strict robocall restrictions applying to their work, especially when it comes to mobile phones.

Under long-standing rules, pollsters and political organizations, just like most other companies, are barred from making autodialed or prerecorded calls to a person’s cellphone. The only exceptions are in cases of emergency or if a person has given prior consent. 

In most cases, political groups and pollsters are already exempt from telemarketer restrictions when calling landline telephones, as long as they clearly identify themselves. They also do not have to abide by the Do Not Call Registry for landlines.

However, calls to landline phones are becoming less and less relevant, as more people move to mobile phones only. Pollsters in particular — including those outside of politics — have lamented the mounting costs of getting an accurate sample because of restrictions on calls to mobile phones. 

On Thursday, Wheeler did not address concerns about what effect those restrictions would have on the public discourse.