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FCC proposal could raise costs of market research

Market research, the intelligence that companies use to place advertising campaigns and media companies use as currency to sell to them, is likely to get more expensive under the Federal Communications Commission proposal to crack down on robocalls to mobile phones.

While the proposal would give consumers more control over who gets to call their phone numbers, it would also put in place a broader definition of autodialing, prohibiting variations on technologies and methods that market researchers have used in an effort to comply with provisions in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).

“The FCC chairman’s proposed TCPA changes could be potentially devastating to the survey, opinion and marketing research profession,” said Howard Fienberg, director of government affairs of the Market Research Association (MRA.) “They are playing fast and loose with their terms, using unwanted calls, telemarketing calls, and robocalls interchangeably, and conflating illegal telemarketing scams with legitimate calls,” he said.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the rules at its next monthly meeting, June 18.

The TCPA is a 1991 statute, put in place at a time when incoming calls to mobile phones were paid by the receiver. The act prohibited using an autodialers to call cell phones. Autodialers are an essential tool for market research call centers because the technology helps interviewers make and complete more calls per shift.

When cell-phone only homes were a small percentage of the population, market researchers ignored that group. Now that 58.8 percent of American households are only reachable on a cell phone (according to the Marketing Research Association), the group cannot be ignored. Researchers must include those cell-phone only households in order to have a reliable sample.

Researchers could use manual-dialing, but that is not only time-consuming, it would be five times as expensive as a normal survey, the MRA said.  Some research companies have pre-qualified their samples by mass mailing households to obtain, in advance of any survey, the written consent required by the TCPA—also an expensive process.

Given the direction the FCC is taking its interpretation of the TCPA rules, the only relief market researchers might get is through an update to the law in Congress.