Last week, the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") issued a public notice (the "Notice") seeking comment on key aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") that were addressed in the recent decision in ACA International, et al. v. FCC, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018). As we noted in our Client Alert on the decision, the court in ACA set aside portions of the FCC's 2015 Order interpreting, among other things, the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system ("ATDS") and the applicability of the TCPA to reassigned numbers.
More specifically, the Notice seeks comment on:
- What constitutes an "automatic telephone dialing system"? Under the TCPA, an ATDS is defined as equipment with the capacity to store or produce telephone numbers to be called. In ACA, the Court found that the FCC significantly overreached in its interpretation of "capacity." The Notice thus seeks comment on how to interpret "capacity," including how much user effort should be required to enable the device to function as an ATDS. The notice also seeks comment on what functions a device must be able to perform to qualify as an ATDS. For instance, to be "automatic," must an ATDS dial numbers without human intervention? Must the ATDS dial thousands of numbers in a short period of time? What if a system has ATDS functionality, but the caller does not use the ATDS functionality when making a call?
- How should calls to reassigned wireless numbers be treated? The TCPA exempts from liability certain calls made with prior express consent of the called party. A key issue in the ACA decision was interpretation of the term "called party" and how it applies to reassigned numbers. For instance, what happens if a business has obtained consent from the caller it is trying to call, but the wireless number associated with the person who provided consent is "reassigned," and the business calls someone who did not consent to be called? The FCC's answer to this issue in its 2015 Order was a "one-call safe harbor" for callers to detect reassignments. The Court in ACA, however, struck down this approach as arbitrary and capricious. The FCC's notice thus seeks comment on how to interpret the term "called party" for reassigned numbers. For instance, does "called party" refer to "the person the caller expected to reach" or "the person actually reached"?
- How may a called party revoke consent? In its 2015 Order, the FCC determined that consent may be revoked "at any time and through any reasonable means," including orally or in writing, that "clearly expresses a desire not to receive further messages." The Court in ACA left the ruling in place but suggested that a business could avoid TCPA liability by making available "clearly-defined and easy-to-use opt-out methods." The FCC notice thus seeks comment on what opt-out methods would be sufficiently clear such that opt-outs outside of those methods would not constitute a "reasonable means."
- Pending petitions: The FCC notice also seeks comment regarding pending petitions for reconsideration, including the FCC's Broadnet Declaratory Ruling as well as the 2016 Federal Debt Collection Rules.
Comments on the FCC's notice are due on June 13, 2018, with reply comments due on June 28, 2018. In the meantime, and as we noted in our Client Alert, businesses should continue to evaluate whether particular devices may be considered an ATDS as well as whether they have processes in place to provide a reasonable means of revoking consent.
Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
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