Understanding the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1991 to rein in telemarketing companies that had been bombarding consumers in Missouri and around the country with unsolicited sales calls. The government decided to take action after the Federal Communications Commission received thousands of complaints. The TCPA’s key provisions curtailed the use of automated dialing systems and prohibited sales calls before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.

Robo calls

The telemarketing industry flourished in the 1980s due the development of technology that allowed companies to dial thousands of phone numbers automatically and then play recorded promotional messages to anybody who answered. The TCPA did not ban these systems, but it did require telemarketers to identify themselves and provide their contact information. These restrictions seem to have done little to deter telemarketers as the number of what are known as robo calls has continued to grow. American consumers receive almost 4 billion of these calls each month even though the National Do Not Call Registry, which was established in 2003, now contains almost 240 million numbers.

VOIP

Telemarketers may flout the rules because the penalties for getting caught do not act as a deterrent, and technology like VOIP calling allows them to conceal their identities. The FCC is also frustrated by overseas telemarketing operations that can ignore federal regulations without consequence. In 2018, a U.S. Court of Appeals further undermined the TCPA by siding with telemarketing companies in a lawsuit filed against the FCC.

Remedies for consumers

While the provisions of the TCPA may not have done much to curtail the telemarketing industry, its provisions could be enough to protect consumers who are willing to take action from unwanted and unwelcome sales calls. Attorneys with experience in consumer protection cases may seek damages of $500 for each violation in lawsuits filed against telemarketers that break the rules. When violations are willful, these damages may be trebled.