On April 4, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai expressing opposition to two Petitions for Reconsideration of the Commission’s Broadnet Declaratory Ruling, on behalf of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Census Bureau. The letter argues that the FCC correctly decided, and should not reverse, its determination in the 2016 declaratory ruling that Federal agencies and contractors acting on behalf of Federal agencies are not “persons” subject to the TCPA.
The letter claims that, were the FCC to reverse its decision, it would adversely affect the ability of Federal agencies to perform critical missions and would increase the cost of business for the Government and taxpayers. The letter states that Congress has directed the Census Bureau to leverage technology to complete the 2020 Census and that it intends to contract with telephone call centers to make calls to landline and wireless phones to collect data for the census. If the Commission reverses the decision, it will jeopardize the completeness and quality of the 2020 Census and would costs taxpayers $20 million, according to the letter.
Alternatively, if the FCC does reverse its declaratory ruling, the letter asserts that calls made by the Census Bureau and its contractors would not violate the TCPA, and it asks the Commission to state that clarification. Specifically, the letter contends that the Census Bureau plans to use contractors to make outbound calls that will allow the bureau to correct missing or inconsistent information using live agents—not autodialers—and calling specific numbers provided by respondents to the Census Bureau staff.
The Commission sought renewed comment on the petitions on May 14, 2018, following the DC Circuit’s opinion in ACA International v. FCC, invalidating certain parts of the FCC’s 2015 TCPA Declaratory Ruling and Order. Comments were due on June 13, 2018, and reply comments on June 28, 2018, but the FCC has not indicated when it expects to rule on the petitions.