"Too many telemarketers, aided by auto-dialers and prerecorded… (Mark Wilson, Getty Images )
Those aggravating automated telemarketing calls will be interrupting your dinner a lot less often.
After receiving thousands of complaints from consumers, the Federal Communications Commission clamped down Wednesday on unwanted robo-calling by approving sweeping changes to its telemarketing rules for wireline and mobile phones.
Even with the national Do Not Call Registry in effect — the initial effort to block those pesky calls — telemarketers have found ways around the rules. But the FCC's latest effort is "closing a loophole," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"This is an important step forward to make it easier for consumers to take advantage of the Do Not Call list," Rotenberg said about the FCC's changes. "These are additional safeguards to provide consumers greater protection."
Telemarketing calls have a bigger effect on mobile phones, he noted, because those calls can eat up the minutes in consumers' wireless plans.
Under the new FCC rules, telemarketers are required to obtain written consent, which can be in the form of an online approval, before placing autodialed or prerecorded calls to a consumer.
Telemarketers also must provide an automated opt-out mechanism during each robo-call so that consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling.
The FCC also eliminated the "established business relationship" exception, which had allowed robo-calls to be placed to the land-line home phones of consumers with "prior or existing" associations with companies represented by telemarketers.
And the agency strictly limited the number of abandoned or so-called dead-air calls — in which consumers answer their phones and hear nothing — that telemarketers can make within each calling campaign.
The FCC's new rules, which will go into effect in the coming months, also apply to text messages. The FCC said it modified its rules to be more consistent with the Federal Trade Commission's telemarketing rules, which cover fewer telemarketers.
The new rules are aimed at giving consumers more control over who can call them, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said. Congress and his agency have long recognized the need for consumers to have control over the telemarketing calls that come into their phones, but existing rules weren't effective enough, he said.
"Despite these clear ground rules, too many telemarketers, aided by auto-dialers and prerecorded messages, have continued to call consumers who don't want to hear from them," Genachowski said. Telephone and cellphone customers "remain unhappy with having their privacy invaded and their time wasted by these unwanted calls."
The FCC's changes still permit informational calls, such as those related to school closings and flight changes. Charities and political organizations are also exempt.