Removing Barriers Blog

Comment Call: Exemptions for the TCPA for Government Debts
Posted May 12, 2016 by Chandler Schuette

We have posted a call for comments on a recent NPRM from the Federal Communications Commission regarding exemptions to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) for collections on debt owed to the US government. 

On July 10, the FCC issued an Omnibus Declaratory Ruling and Order (“Order”) about the TCPA that immediately went into effect. While we support the concept of preserving consumers' rights to privacy on their cell phones and protecting financial information, this Order goes far beyond the scope or purpose of the TCPA - which incidentally was enacted in 1991 before cell phones and mobile devices were commonly used. The Order disregards consumers' preferences to use new technologies and modern forms of communication, and makes it more difficult for credit unions to communicate with their members about fraud, data breaches, and other pertinent account updates.

This latest Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was prompted by the Budget Act of 2015, (Budget Act) which amended to the TCPA to create exemptions for calls made to cell phones when collecting a debt owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. The Budget Act required that if calls are made solely pursuant to the collection of a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States, the caller is no longer required to have the prior express consent of the recipient. However, the FCC's rule takes a narrow reading of this law, and requires several conditions surrounding these calls.

The scope of this proposed rule is specific to the issue of the amendments made to the TCPA by the Budget act.

What does this proposed rule do?

This NPRM seeks comment on implementation of the Budget Act amendments. The FCC takes an extremely narrow reading of the Budget Act, and proposes significant restrictions on the ability of to collect the debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. These include a limit of three calls per month and debt can only be collected when delinquent or in default. There are also restrictions on opting out including a one call limit to reassigned numbers, and calls can be opted out of at any point. 

Most notably for credit unions, the FCC is seeking comment on the meaning of “owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” This is relevant if it were interpreted broadly enough that it includes federal student loans, Small Business Administration loans, and federally guaranteed mortgages.

The deadline for submitting comments to the FCC is June 6, 2016. However, we would like comments to CUNA by June 1. Our comment call page is here.