On August 11, the FCC released an order through which the Commission adopted new rules to implement a TCPA exemption for calls related to government debt collection that was enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015. Despite objections from other federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new rules include a number of consumer protection-focused provisions, including the following:
- The number of federal debt collection calls is limited to three calls within a 30-day period. However, “federal agencies may request a waiver seeking a different limit on the number of autodialed, prerecorded-voice, and artificial-voice calls.”
- Consumers are permitted to seek to stop federal debt collection calls at any time, and callers must inform consumers of their right to make such a request.
- Artificial-voice and prerecorded-voice calls “may not exceed 60 seconds, exclusive of any required disclosures.”
- Federal debt collection calls or texts are permitted only between 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM (local time at the called party’s location).
- Calls covered under the exception are only permitted for “debts that are ‘delinquent’ at the time the call is made or debts that are at imminent risk of delinquency as a result of the terms of the operation of the loan program itself” and the U.S. must “currently [be] the owner or guarantor of the debt.” (Debts that have been sold in their entirety by the federal government are not covered.)
- Pre-delinquency debt servicing calls are prohibited, except for the following: (1) calls regarding an approaching deadline or a change in status (deferment, forbearance, rehabilitation), (2) calls regarding enrollment or re-enrollment in income-driven or income-based repayment plans, and (3) calls regarding similar time-sensitive events or deadlines affecting the amount or timing of payments due.
- Calls covered under the exception are permitted to the following phone numbers: (1) the wireless telephone number the debtor provided at the time the debt was incurred, such as on the loan application; (2) a wireless phone number subsequently provided by the debtor to the owner of the debt or the owner’s contractor; or (3) a wireless telephone number the owner of the debt or its contractor has obtained from an independent source, provided that the number actually is the debtor’s telephone number.
The Commission adopted these rules by a 3-2 partisan vote. Commissioner Rosenworcel, despite voting in favor of the order, issued a concurring statement suggesting that the new rules were somewhat at odds with the Commission’s previous declaratory ruling in which it found that government contractors are not subject to the TCPA at all, and that this tension could create confusion in TCPA enforcement actions going forward.