What Is the TCPA: Telemarketing Rules and Restrictions
The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) is a U.S. law from 1991 that regulates telemarketing practices and protects consumers. It restricts automated dialers, requires do-not-call lists, and limits prerecorded messages and robocalls.
One of the key objectives of the TCPA is to tackle consumer concerns related to telemarketing by setting up guidelines for telemarketing practices, imposing stricter limits on automated telephone equipment, and requiring the maintenance of do-not-call lists. The TCPA was enacted in response to complaints directed at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the use of telephones for business solicitations, and it was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.
Telemarketing Restrictions Under TCPA
The TCPA sets limits on telemarketing practices, such as robocalls, auto-dialing systems, and text messages. It also requires caller identification for voice messaging equipment and fax machines. Despite these rules, the number of robocalls has increased significantly since they were implemented. Complaints to the FCC about unwanted calls, including robocalls, reached over 200,000 in 2018. Robocallers find it profitable due to low costs and the ability to hide their identities using software and VOIP calling from overseas.
TCPA Provisions for Telemarketers
The TCPA includes several provisions to restrict telemarketers and solicitors who haven't obtained prior consent from call or message recipients:
- Calls to residences must be made only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
- Automated calls or those with artificial voices are not allowed to emergency phone lines, doctors' offices, mobile phones, or any recipients who will be charged for the call.
- Telemarketers must provide their name, the entity they represent, and contact details.
- Auto dialing multiple lines of the same business is prohibited.
- Unsolicited faxes with advertising are not permitted.
- They cannot use a recording or artificial voice when calling residences.
- Telemarketers must maintain company-specific do-not-call lists for five years and honor the National Do Not Call Registry.
The TCPA imposes penalties for violating these rules. Subscribers can sue for $500 for each violation or seek damages, an injunction, or both. In cases of willful violation, subscribers can claim treble damages for each instance.
FCC Updates to TCPA Rules
Following the enactment of the TCPA, the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC collaborated in 2003 to create a nationwide do-not-call registry. This registry aimed to reduce unwanted phone calls to households. In 2012, the FCC updated its TCPA rules, requiring telemarketers to:
- Obtain prior express written consent from consumers before making robocalls to them.
- Include an automated, interactive opt-out option during each robocall, allowing consumers to immediately request the telemarketer to stop calling.
- Stop using an "established business relationship" as a way to avoid obtaining consent from consumers for calls to their home phones.
In March 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of the telemarketing industry in the case of ACA International v. FCC. The court agreed with those who argued that the TCPA unfairly penalized ethical businesses. The case revolved around the interpretation of terms such as "automated telephone dialing system" and "called party" in specific contexts.
The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 serves as a crucial piece of legislation aimed at protecting consumers from unwanted telemarketing practices. Despite the restrictions set by the TCPA, robocalls and other forms of unwanted calls continue to be a nuisance to consumers. The TCPA provisions for telemarketers and the updates made by the FCC provide some relief to consumers, but further efforts are necessary to combat this issue.