On March 30, several financial service providers filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission asking for clarification on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s emergency purposes exception in the context of the coronavirus (“COVID-19”). The comment period on that petition closed this week, with a further reply date of May 21, 2020. This follows the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling which confirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as an “emergency” under the TCPA, although limiting the types of calls that qualify under the exception.
The emergency purposes exception of the TCPA provides that calls made for “emergency purposes” are exempt from the TCPA’s consent requirements. In their March 30 petition, the financial service companies asked the FCC to issue a declaratory ruling stating that calls to consumers placed by financial institutions and related to the COVID-19 pandemic fall within the “emergency purposes” exemption. In other words, the companies sought clarification that these calls “may be placed without the consent of the called party.”
After the initial filing, several prominent consumer advocacy organizations showed their support for the petition, in part. The consumer groups, including the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates, filed a notice on April 9 specifically asking the FCC to permit certain automated calls and text messages that communicate debt relief options to consumers. These calls included the following:
- Forbearance on loans secured by homes or vehicles;
- Payment deferrals on loans secured by homes or vehicles;
- Fee waivers on loans secured by homes or vehicles;
- Extension or relaxation of repayment terms on loans secured by homes or vehicles;
- Loan modifications on loans secured by homes or vehicles; and
- Other programs, relief, and resources provided to assist debtors in response to the current pandemic relating to loans secured by homes or vehicles.
Given the uniqueness of consumer groups supporting this type of proposal, those groups made sure to impose limitations on their request to the FCC. Specifically, they urged the FCC to “explicitly prohibit any debt collection or telemarketing communication as part of the [exempted] calls (other than to answer questions from the call recipient about the amount and terms of the debt that is the subject of the calls)”; and to “apply appropriate limits on the number of calls and require that prerecorded or artificial voice calls be concise.”
With the comment period now coming to a close, the industry awaits FCC action.