Ringless voicemails would overwhelm cellphone inboxes, Schumer says

An FCC rule change could allow telemarketers, political groups and other businesses to leave automated voicemail messages without having cellphones ring.

Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday warned that automated, spam voicemails would inundate inboxes if the federal government approves a new rule change proposal.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently considering a proposed rule change filed this March that would allow telemarketers, political groups and other businesses to leave automated voicemail messages without having cell phones ring, known as “ringless voicemail.”

“You don’t know about it until it just floods your voicemail — and so that could be devastating,” said Schumer, who complained of the growing number of phone calls that use automated dialing machines in the state. More than 56 million robocalls were received in New York City and Long Island this May, according to numbers Schumer cited from YouMail.

“Now things could get even worse,” Schumer said. “So the bottom line is we’re here to sound the alarm with the FCC: Don’t throw gas on the robocall wildfire.”

The petition, filed by marketing firm All About the Message LLC, has drawn support from the Republican National Committee and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, all of which essentially argue that the direct-to-voicemail messages are not regulated under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, or TCPA, because the messages don’t technically constitute as “calls,” but instead as a direct server-to-server form of communication.

“The commission should not act as a legislative body by expanding the reach of TCPA to new technologies. The role of lawmaker belongs to, and should be performed by, Congress,” said Harold Kim, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, and William Kovacs, a senior vice president at U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a joint letter to the FCC dated this May.

But Schumer, who last year announced legislation that would require landline and mobile carriers to offer free robocall-blocking technology to all consumers, described the petition as an “outrageous” effort that would pave the way for marketers to fill cell phone inboxes with “inane” messages. He urged the FCC to do more to protect consumers.

Schumer added that, with the support of the petition from RNC, that the Republican Party is just “protecting what the big corporate interests want, as usual.”

The FCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Vincent Barone