On Monday, May 14, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a public notice seeking comment on interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) in light of the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA International v. FCC. The notice reflects an intent by the FCC to take up the proper interpretation of the TCPA promptly. Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on key areas of the TCPA, including:
- How to interpret “capacity” in light of the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA, including the amount of user effort required to enable a device to function as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”);
- The functions a device must be able to perform to qualify as an ATDS, including whether the word “automatic” envisions only non-manual dialing of telephone numbers;
- How to treat reassigned wireless numbers and how to interpret the term “called party” for reassigned numbers, including whether the term refers to the person the caller expected to reach, the party the caller reasonably expected to reach, or the person actually reached;
- Revocation of prior consent, including particular opt-out methods that would suffice to revoke consent;
- The scope of the term “person” under the statute, and whether it includes federal government contractors; and
- The appropriate limit for calls made to a reassigned number.
The initial comment period closes on June 13, 2018 and the reply comment period closes on June 28, 2018, meaning that the issues would be ripe for decision by the FCC in short order.
The ACA decision was immediately hailed by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who said in a statement that the “unanimous D.C. Circuit decision addresses yet another example of the prior FCC’s disregard for the law and regulatory overreach. As the court explains, the agency’s 2015 ruling placed every American consumer with a smartphone at substantial risk of violating federal law. That’s why I dissented from the FCC’s misguided decision and am pleased that the D.C. Circuit too has rejected it.” Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr similarly praised the decision, giving Chairman Pai the necessary majority to effect major change in the TCPA landscape.
The call for comments also follows on the heels of a petition filed with the FCC by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and 17 trade groups. The petition focused solely on the definition of an ATDS. Like the FCC’s request for comment, the petition tracks the language of the D.C. Circuit’s decision in ACA, where it struck down major portions of the FCC’s previous expansive interpretations of the TCPA, including its definition of an ATDS. While the FCC has taken the position for 15 years that a predictive dialer is an ATDS, the D.C. Circuit found that the 2015 Order and its predecessors do not give a clear answer as to whether a device qualifies as an ATDS only if it can generate random or sequential numbers for dialing. The U.S. Chamber petition urges the FCC to confirm that equipment must use a random or sequential number generator to store or produce numbers and dial those numbers without human intervention to qualify as an ATDS and to find that only calls made using actual ATDS capabilities are subject to the TCPA. Calling the ACA decision “an opportunity to restore rationality to . . . the TCPA,” the groups ask the Commission to issue a declaratory ruling as soon as possible to clarify the ATDS definition.
In sum, the groundwork is being laid at the FCC for a major change in interpretation of the TCPA, and the changes under consideration would substantially reduce the legal risks for companies using telephony to contact consumers.
Troutman Sanders LLP has unique industry-leading expertise with the TCPA, with experience gained trying TCPA cases to verdict and advising Fortune 500 companies regarding their compliance strategy. We will continue to monitor legislative developments and regulatory implementation of the TCPA in order to identify and advise on potential risks.