Tell the FCC you don’t want robo-voicemail, spammy direct-to-voicemail messages

If your phone doesn’t ring, yet you have received voicemail, did that voicemail qualify as a call? If it didn’t count as a call, then the telemarketer behind the pre-recorded voicemail message may claim it can leave “ringless voicemail” (RVM) for people even on the Do Not Call list.

The FCC is currently deciding if it should ban ringless voicemail or if those spammy voicemail messages don’t count as calls as companies using direct-to-voicemail insertion technology claim.

All About the Message, a ringless voicemail company, petitioned the FCC to “declare that the delivery of a voice message directly to a voicemail box does not constitute a call that is subject to the prohibitions on the use of an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) or an artificial or prerecorded voice” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (pdf).

The New York Times reported that All About the Message uses technology developed by Stratics Networks which claims to be the “inventors of ringless voicemail drops.”

In comments (pdf) submitted to the FCC, Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, pointed out that Stratics Networks advertises that it can “send out 10,000 RVMs per minute.”

If the FCC decides ringless voicemail, which is “invasive, expensive and annoying,” does not fall foul of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, then Saunders believes it will “allow telemarketing and debt collection messages to overwhelm the voicemail boxes of consumers.” And “unlike their ability to limit calls and texts, consumers have no way to limit, restrict or block unwanted voicemail messages from particular callers.”

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t like to listen to voicemail from anyone. If I didn’t answer the phone, then there’s a good reason so try again later. People who know me, know this, and so leaving voicemail usually means there is some kind of emergency. If voicemail is clogged with spam from ringless voicemail robocalls, it could waste considerable time actually getting to the ‘emergency’ voicemails.

Some people don’t have unlimited calling on their cellphones; instead, they pay for plans with limited minutes. If ringless voicemail is unregulated, then it could end up costing consumers who go over the time or data limit by trying to listen to the voicemails. The same could be true if you are “roaming” while trying to address a voicemail box full of spam.

Every carrier has specific time limits for how long of a voicemail can be recorded, but that would be the only time limit for the length of ringless voicemail messages.

Since ringless voicemail spam messages cannot be blocked and could be of any length, Saunders argued, “It is entirely possible that debt collectors using this method of communicating might hijack a consumer’s voicemail box – filling it with RVM messages – until the consumer pays the debt.”

Don’t think you won’t be a target of ringless voicemail just because you signed up on the National Do Not Call Registry. Saunder wrote, “We read the law to possibly not apply if they are not considered calls.”

Thankfully, unlike some people, I’ve not been a victim who had to suffer through ringless voicemail. Hopefully those people submitted a complaint, just like anyone who receives a robocall or robotext should. Some might believe robo-voicemail is not something for which leaving a complaint is acceptable, believing it is their right to leave such voicemail. Ars Technica previously pointed out that Republicans claim it is their First Amendment right to spam you with direct-to-voicemail messages.

The FCC won’t comment on the petition while it’s under review. You can view public comments on Docket 02-278, but I highly suggest you submit public comments now to speak out against ringless voicemail. There’s no guarantee the comments won’t be overrun by spam like the anti-net neutrality comments have been, but surely the few minutes it will take to comment beat the alternative of being flooded with ringless voicemail if RVM is allowed to get around consumer protections.

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