The explosive growth of robocalls continues to generate regulatory scrutiny.
Last October, Americans received a record-breaking 5.7 billion robocalls. To put this in perspective, that comes out to about 2,000 robocalls every second. A good amount of the calls made are legal, such as debt collection, charity, opted-in reminders/updates and, of course, political calls. Still, that may be the peak of the robocall blitz.
At the end of December, President Trump signed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, which is meant to “provide American consumers with even greater protection against annoying unsolicited robocalls,” according to the White House announcement.
The bill requires voice service providers — AT&T, Verizon and other telecom carriers — to authenticate calls through new technology. Essentially, this will eliminate most call spoofing and fake or spam robocalls. The TRACED Act was mainly put in place to prevent "spam" calls that solicit services and scams.
But all of the attention that’s being driven to robocalls due to this act isn’t good attention. Robocalls are definitely not perceived as a friendly thing, and I think we will only start to see more and more regulations until they aren't allowed at all.
Now, how does this impact robocalls for 2020 campaigns? Legally, it doesn’t. But carriers are now required by the TRACED Act to implement new technologies that authenticate caller IDs and make sure that the information being displayed is accurate. Additionally, the FCC is planning to require that carriers put in place the "Shaken-Stir" authentication system to assist in fighting robocalls.
The FCC still states: “Political campaign-related autodialed or prerecorded voice calls are allowed when made to landline telephones, even without prior express consent.”
With regulations cracking down on robocalls, both illegal and legal, we can expect to see a higher number of alternatives making way into the campaign fields. But beyond the increasingly restrictive regulation, we’re seeing a decrease in the number of completed calls. Not only are there fewer and fewer landlines to call to each year due to people getting rid of their home phones, but we're also seeing that it's harder to get people to listen and stay on the line once we do reach them.
We’ve already seen in 2019 and earlier years a surge of peer-to-peer (P2P) text messages, and this may just be the beginning. As more and more campaigns learn about P2P texting we can expect more to hop on the bandwagon and get to sending. Text messages are much more effective than a robocall — a text can be read on the recipient's own time rather than a robocall that can only be listened to if the recipient answers the phone.
But for those who still want robocalls to be part of their outreach, know that each state has its own rules and regulations that must be followed alongside the new FCC rules.
Some states such as Maine, Indiana, California, Nebraska, and others require calling to be made in a certain time window, some including Connecticut require the caller is announced while a handful of states just don’t allow it at all. A concern for those who heavily rely on robocalls still is that the TRACED Act will only lead to more regulations and at some point they will be banned altogether.
There will always be someone sending robocalls. There will always be a vendor willing to take risks, find loopholes or use tricks to get their scam robocalls through. Make sure your vendor is operating within the law and complying with all appropriate regulations.
Otherwise, the sender will be subject to the hefty fine of $10,000 that the TRACED Act demands.
And remember: while robocalling to landlines is still allowed under FCC regulations, these will most likely tighten up over the next few years. Many observers believe that the TRACED Act is only the beginning.
Hunter Lamirande is the Orlando, Fla., based founder of Point Blank Political a non-partisan political consulting firm that serves campaigns nationwide. His background focuses on voter engagement and outreach, with a high interest in telecommunications, mobile outreach, and digital marketing.