Speed Reads

Silent but deadly

Chuck Schumer warns that without FCC intervention, America's robocall problem will get much worse, fast

The Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Ajit Pai, agree with everyone that robocalls are a nuisance, and last week the FCC proposed a record $120 million fine for a Miami telemarketer whose company made nearly 97 million "spoofed" robocalls over a three-month period. But on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had asked Pai and his FCC colleagues to protect America's cellphone inboxes from a new threat, the "ringless voicemail."

Telemarketers, backed by groups including the Republican National Committee, are proposing that the FCC allow them to send voicemails directly to the inboxes of cellphone customers, without the phone ringing at all, skirting do-not-call registries and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act​. In a March filing, a lawyer for voicemail company All About the Message argued that the FCC did not have the legal authority to regulate voicemail, and the RNC said denying the telemarketing industry's request would amount to a violation of the companies' First Amendment right to political communications.

Allowing ringless voicemail would "throw gas on a robocall wildfire," Schumer said. "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse with these robocalls, the telemarketing industry had gone behind the scenes to deliver us the last straw​," he added. ​"​They would give you a voicemail, your phone wouldn't ring, but you'd have tons of these darned messages piling up on your voicemail, ruining your voicemail​," with potentially serious consequences. ​"G​od​​ forbid you got a serious message​ — someone sick​,​ you need to pick up your kid at school, there's an accident​ — you wouldn't be able to get to it because there'd be so many of these darned useless solicitations on the phone​,​" Schumer said.​

Telemarketers made 2.6 billion robocalls in May, robocall blocking service YouMail says, and New York City area codes 917 and 646 were major targets, The Wall Street Journal reports. Schumer said he felt it necessary to write Pai because the FCC chairman is vocally anti-regulation, most famously regarding net neutrality.