On November 17, 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler received a letter signed by 41 Senators urging the Commission to “limit the potential harm that could result” from the “Debt Collection Improvements” provision of the recently enacted budget bill. This section amends the TCPA so an autodialed call to a cell phone or residential telephone line is permitted even in the absence of the prior express consent of the called party as long as the call is made for the purpose of collecting “a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” and requires the FCC to establish regulations to implement the amendment within nine months. In the letter, the Senators ask the Commission to take the following actions “to accomplish several important consumer protection objectives”:
- Issue an immediate pronouncement stating that no calls can be made pursuant to the amendment until the FCC finalizes implementing its regulations.
- Implement regulations that allow calls only to debtors for the explicit purpose of collecting on defaulted debt (not people associated with debtors).
- Impose strict limits on calls to reassigned numbers, as they are not actually calls to the debtors.
- Hold callers to strict limits on the number and duration of calls and the persons to whom the calls are made and “work closely with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to develop a coordinated approach on the limited number of calls permitted.”
- Require callers to cease calls as soon as any called parties request that the calls stop.
The letter was sent shortly after Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), along with ten other bipartisan cosponsors, introduced legislation (S. 2235) to reverse the TCPA exemption for government debt collection calls, which remains pending before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.