Federal court rules against part of FCC robocall regulation

Federal court rules against part of FCC robocall regulation
© Greg Nash

A federal appeals court has scrapped part of a regulation intended to curb robocalls on the grounds that the rule is too broad.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday ruled in a unanimous opinion that a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rule on robocalls could inadvertently encompass any smartphone user, not just the spam callers the rule was targeting.

“It is undisputed that essentially any smartphone, with the addition of software, can gain the statutorily enumerated features of an autodialer and thus function as an [automatic telephone dialing system] ATDS,” Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote in the decision, about the FCC’s Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

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When the FCC voted on the rule in 2015, the majority in support of it dismissed concerns about including normal smartphone users. They believed that such users were unlikely to engage in the type of behavior that creates unwanted calls.

Chairman Ajit Pai, who then dissented, agreed with Friday's court ruling.

“As the court explains, the agency’s 2015 ruling placed every American consumer with a smartphone at substantial risk of violating federal law,” Chairman Ajit Pai said on Friday in a statement.

Pai argued that robocalls should be addressed by strong enforcement action, not “regulatory overreach,” which he said was a product of “the prior FCC’s disregard for the law.”

The case was brought to the appeals court by the ACA International, a lobbying group representing credit and collection agencies.

Under Pai, the FCC has levied heavy penalties against alleged robocalls including a $122 million fine of a Florida man in June. The FCC said the man made almost 100 million illegal robocalls over a three-month period.