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Market research firms considering options with new TCPA rules

Market research firms are considering their options after the Federal Communications Commission passed new rules that put tighter restrictions on auto-dialed telephone calls to cell phones.

The new rules, passed last Thursday, update provisions in the Telephone consumer protection Act, a 1991 law to restrict annoying telemarketing calls.

But while the updates give consumers more control over who gets to call their cell phone numbers and allows mobile carriers to offer call-blocking technology, the rules also broaden the definition of robocalls, making no exceptions for caller intent, punishing businesses with legitimate reasons to contact their customers as well as fraudsters and hucksters.

The Council of American Survey Research Organizations and the Marketing Research Association said the groups “will be …. considering all options — regulatory, legislative and judicial — to support a positive business environment for legitimate research,” the groups said in a statement.

With more than 58.5 percent of households or 78 million, mostly or only reachable via cell phone, market and survey researchers argue that could hamstring research firms and unnecessarily increase consumer and business costs.  Businesses that contact their customers for common business reasons, such as delivery notifications, product recalls, school alerts, airline delays, or sending confirmation texts, would be liable for fines and lawsuits if there is not express consent for the call.

“We had asked that the FCC limit use of the term ‘robocall,’ sensibly limit the definition of an autodialer, and establish a bright line rule regarding reasonable opt-out and a clear standard for notice of wireless number reassignment,” said Diane Bowers, president of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations. “CASRO and MRA [Marketing Research Association] are disappointed that these requests were sidestepped.”

For example, if a researcher calls a number that has been reassigned more than once, the call would be a violation of the updated TCPA rules.

“The agency’s decision oversteps its authority by imposing new regulations that create new restrictions on important, time-sensitive, non-telemarketing communications, which go way beyond the intent of Congress when it passed the TCPA in 1991,” said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform and William Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber.

Both FCC GOP commissioners argued the updates went too far. Commissioner Ajit Pai dissented and Mike O’Rielly dissented in part and approved in part.

“Rather than focus on the illegal telemarketing calls that consumers really care about, the Order twists the law’s words even further to target useful communications between legitimate businesses and their customers. This Order will make abuse of the TCPA much, much easier. And the primary beneficiaries will be trial lawyers, not the American public,” said Pai in his dissenting statement. “We’re taking our focus off of telemarketing fraud and sweeping legitimate phone calls within the TCPA.”