Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) Definition

What is the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA)?

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) is a US law created in response to consumer concerns about telemarketing. The law establishes guidelines for telemarketing practices, imposes greater restrictions on the use of automated telephone equipment, and requires entities making telephone solicitations to maintain do-not-call lists.

The TCPA was a response to complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the use of telephones for business solicitation. It was signed into law by President George HW Bush.

Key points to remember

  • The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) is a US federal law that establishes guidelines for telemarketing practices in response to consumer complaints to the FCC.
  • The law imposes certain restrictions on the use of automated telephone dialers and requires the maintenance of enforceable do not call lists.
  • The TCPA restricts the use of a variety of telemarketing devices and practices, including the use of pre-recorded messages, artificial messages (robots), automatic dialing systems and text messages.

Understanding the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA)

The Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act 1991 restricts the use of a variety of telemarketing devices and practices. They include pre-recorded messages, artificial messages (robots), automatic dialing systems, text messages and fax machines. The TCPA also stipulates that automatic dialing and voice mail equipment, as well as fax machines, must transmit their user’s identification and contact information in their messages.

Despite TCPA rules, the number of robocalls has exploded in recent years. In the United States, phone users received 3.8 billion robocalls in November 2020, or about 127 million calls per day. The FCC received 232,000 complaints about spam calls in 2018, which included robocalls and telemarketing calls.

Unfortunately, the incentive to engage in robocalls is too great and the cost of doing so remains very low. In addition, the software helps conceal the identity of callers and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) allows many caller bots to work overseas, far from the reach of US authorities.

The full text of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act of 1991 can be found in Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter II, Part I, Section 227 of the United States Code. A summary can be found on the FCC’s TCPA rules page.

Provisions of the TCPA

Telemarketers/lawyers who have not obtained the prior consent of recipients of calls or messages are restricted under the following TCPA provisions:

  • Telemarketers and attorneys cannot call residences using a recording or artificial voice.
  • They cannot call residences outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
  • They must give their name, who they are calling on behalf of, and a phone number or address for that person or entity.
  • Telemarketers are prohibited from making automated, artificial or pre-recorded voice calls to emergency telephone lines (911 or hospital), doctor’s offices, mobile phones or any other recipient who will be charged for the call.
  • Automatic dialing of two or more lines from the same company is also prohibited.
  • They cannot send unsolicited faxes containing advertising.
  • Telemarketers and attorneys are required to maintain company-specific do not call lists of recipients who do not wish to be called and to honor that list for five years, as well as to honor the National Do Not Call Registry. telephone excluded.

The TCPA also provides penalties for violations of these rules. For example, a subscriber can sue for $500 for each violation or recover damages, seek injunctive relief, or sue for both. For willful violations of the TCPA, Subscribers may seek treble damages for each instance. For more information, see the FCC’s page on Telemarketing and robocalls.

TCPA Updates

In 2003, as part of the TCPA follow-up, the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC collaborated to establish a National Do Not Call Registry to further reduce the number of unwanted telephone calls received by households. And in 2012, the FCC revised its TCPA rules with the following provisions requiring telemarketers to:

  • Obtain consumers’ express written consent before calling them.
  • Stop using an “established business relationship” to avoid obtaining consumer consent when calling their home phones.
  • Provide an automated and interactive solution opt out mechanism during each robocall so that consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling.

A landmark decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in March 2018 (ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission) favored the telemarketing industry because it sided with plaintiffs who claimed the TCPA penalized responsible companies. The problem was the definition of “automated telephone dialing system” and the meaning of “called party” in certain contexts.

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