Yesterday,  the Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau issued a timely advisory on the statutes and rules restricting political telephone calls.  In the high season for election activity, the FCC hopes that the Advisory will lead to greater compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) and Commission rules, warning that “the TCPA and corresponding rules provide important consumer protections that we intend to continue to strictly enforce.”  The FCC notes that the Advisory was prompted, in part, by an increased number of complaints about unwanted political calls sent to mobile phones.

The FCC Advisory summarizes four key restrictions on political calls:

Prerecorded messages and autodialed calls to mobile phones are prohibited, except if made with the prior express consent of the called party.  (There is a second exception for calls made for an emergency purpose, but the Advisory points out that political calls do not meet this exception.)  One interesting point in light of the Federal Election Commission’s recent approval of text message contribution proposals, the FCC Advisory makes clear that these same restrictions apply to “autodialed” political text messages sent to cell phones.  The processes described in the FEC Advisory Opinions appear to require wireless customers to provide express consent before being contacted by political committees, so this is an area where committees and providers should take steps to ensure compliance with all applicable rules when implementing new text message programs.

Prerecorded political messages and autodialed calls to landline phones are permissible, except if made to certain recipients (emergency telephone lines, lines in guest/patient rooms at a hospital, nursing home, or similar establishment; or toll-free lines). 

All prerecorded messages, including political calls, must contain identification information about the caller.  The prerecorded message must include:

  • At the beginning of the message: the name of the person or entity responsible for the call;
  • During or after the message: the telephone number of the person or entity responsible for the call.

Autodialing systems delivering recorded messages must hang up within five seconds after the dialed party hangs up.  In addition, autodialing systems cannot engage two or more telephone lines of a multi-line business simultaneously.

Of course, if you just want to call a few friends to talk about the election, take heart, the FCC Advisory clarifies that these restrictions do not apply to “live manually-dialed political calls.”