Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to fine Dialing Services, LLC, nearly $3 million for making illegal “robocalls” to cell phones. The FCC has specific rules for automatic telephone dialing systems, also known as “autodialers,” that have the capacity to produce, store, and dial telephone numbers using a random or sequential number generator. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) prohibits the transmission of robocalls to mobile phones except for (1) calls made for emergency purposes, or (2) calls made with the “prior express consent” of the call recipient. (In 2012, the FCC promulgated a rule to require “prior express written consent” for such calls that contain a “telemarketing” or “advertisement” component.) The FCC alleged that Dialing Services transmitted automated or prerecorded voice messages on behalf of political campaigns and candidates without the prior express consent of the call recipients. Neither the TCPA nor the FCC’s rules contains a general exception from the autodialer prohibition for political calls.
This is not the first time that Dialing Services has heard from federal regulators. In March of last year, the FCC issued a citation to Dialing Services for making millions of calls to cell phones during the 2012 election cycle without authorization. The citation required Dialing Services to certify within fifteen days that it had ceased making robocalls without permission. It also came with a clear warning from the FCC Enforcement Bureau that, “These citations set the stage for significant monetary penalties if violations continue,” including fines up to $16,000 per call. Finding that Dialing Services failed to comply with the requirements of the citation and continued its practices by making 184 additional calls, the FCC last week announced plans to fine Dialing Services $2,944,000 – the maximum penalty for those 184 calls.
After CTIA, a lobbying group for the wireless industry, reported an increase in complaints about unwanted political messages sent to consumer cell phones during the 2012 campaign season, the FCC issued an enforcement advisory directed towards political campaigns intended to “promote more widespread understanding of the restrictions imposed by [the TCPA] and corresponding Commission rules governing political telephone calls.” Emphasizing that “the TCPA and corresponding rules provide important consumer protections that [the FCC] intend[s] to continue to strictly enforce,” the FCC has indicated through its recent action against Dialing Services that it is willing to take aggressive steps through the upcoming 2014 elections as well.