In the United States’, FCC chair Tom Wheeler issued a proposal late in May which may give consumers more power in fending off spam phone calls and text messages. This has traditionally been a difficult area for the average consumer to exercise greater control, especially when compared to online forms of communication, which can be protected by software applications.
Wheeler also reiterated the consumer’s right to bring class action against offending businesses and organisations under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. Consumer protection groups are counting this as a small victory and a step in the right direction at a time when many claim that governments are more interested in protecting the interests of big businesses rather than those of private citizens.
On his blog, Wheeler wrote, “The commission has received numerous petitions from companies – including bankers, debt collectors, app developers, retail stores and others – seeking clarity on our consumer rules.”
He also added, “I intend to use these petitions as an opportunity to empower consumers and curtail these intrusive communications.”
However, some legal experts who have examined the proposal say that it includes hints of what some are calling ‘safe harbour’ from class actions against certain businesses. Specifically, there may be some level of protection for those that call consumers with phone numbers that have been reassigned.
Class action defence lawyer, Henry Pietrkowski, wrote his own blog post about the FCC proposal. He referred to this so-called ‘safe harbour’ as “the one bright spot for businesses.” He added that, without this protection, plaintiffs’ attorneys could essentially leverage the “class action device by holding companies for ransom.”
The FCC proposal will go before the commission for a vote at an open meeting on 18 June. Even then, much remains to be seen in how the vote will ultimately influence consumer rights.