O'Rielly Calls for Measured Robocall Approach

Amid calls from Capitol Hill and efforts by FCC chair Ajit Pai to end the "scourge" of unwanted robocalls, Republican FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly is calling for a more measured approach that does not stigmatize robocalls in general.

In his prepared testimony for an FCC oversight hearing in the House Communications Subcommittee, O'Rielly talked about a "surge" rather than a "scourge."

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He signaled the FCC was right to try and weed out the bad apples, but suggested it should not be clear-cutting the orchard.

He called it important to take a "careful and nuanced" approach. " Not all robocalls are illegal or scams, and we must be precise in describing the actual problem at issue," he told the legislators, who he gave props for engaging in "careful rhetoric" in a recent robocall hearing, where the subcommittee considered half a dozen bills related to robocalls.

"Many honest, legitimate businesses use automatic dialing technologies to communicate needed information to their customers and doing so is perfectly within the scope and intent of the TCPA [Telephone Consumer Protection Act]," he said. "These legal and legitimate calls and texts share no part in the true robocall problem facing the nation’s communications networks."

He said whatever the Congress or FCC does, it should not expose legitimate robocallers to "potentially crippling legal risk."

O'Rielly has been a voice for not throwing the robocall baby out with the scammers' bathwater throughout his tenure and as the FCC under Pai has increasingly focused on the issue.

He said that "an aggressive few TCPA lawyers have taken advantage of the previous FCC’s expansive and unclear rules to obtain unfair judgments and extract enormous, disproportionate settlements from businesses in virtually all industries," and that "this trend continues."

He said he would welcome any help from Congress to codify a "clearer" approach to winnowing out the bad apples. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.