New FCC rules would crack down on spam texts, unwanted calls

The agency hopes to close loopholes in the 1991 telemarketing law with the proposed rules

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

New rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission aim to give owners of mobile phones more tools to protect themselves against unwanted text messages and phone calls.

The proposal, from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, would close some loopholes in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), a law that restricts telemarketing, but has allowed some marketers, bill collectors and other businesses to make hundreds of unwanted calls, or send hundreds of unwanted text messages to some mobile and telephone customers.

"Few things rankle consumers as much as unwanted calls and texts," Wheeler said in a blog post. "The responsibility to protect consumers from robocalls that can be both costly and intrusive does not expire with changes in technology."

Most of the new rules, to be debated at the FCC's June 18 meeting, apply to mobile phone customers, but some cover traditional telephone service, FCC officials said Wednesday. Unwanted calls and text messages are the top consumer complaint to the agency, with 215,000 TCPA complaints made to the FCC in 2014, the agency said.

Wheeler's proposal would allow mobile and telephone consumers to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time, including through a verbal request during a telemarketing call, FCC officials said. Some telephone marketers have required recipients of these calls and texts to jump through hoops, including sending a letter, asking to be removed from the telemarketing lists, FCC officials said.

In addition, Wheeler will ask the FCC to give telecom carriers a green light to offer robocall-blocking technology to their customers. The commission action would declare robocall-blocking technology to be a legal service, FCC officials said during a press conference.

Customers who inherit a number whose previous owner allowed telemarketing calls shouldn't be subject to a "barrage" of unwanted calls, according to the FCC. So the agency's proposal would require telemarketers to only call those numbers once.

Wheeler's proposal addresses more than 20 petitions to the FCC from businesses seeking clarification of TCPA rules on telemarketing and texting.

"I intend to use these petitions as an opportunity to empower consumers and curtail these intrusive communications," Wheeler wrote. The agency should "send one clear message: Consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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