In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Declaratory Ruling (Ruling) confirming that the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an imminent health risk to the public and is now classified as an emergency under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which permits certain callers to lawfully make automated calls and send text messages for health and safety reasons. As a result, hospitals, health care providers, and state and local health officials can lawfully communicate information through automated or pre-recorded calls to wireless telephone numbers to help educate the public and mitigate the spread of this pandemic.
The TCPA was enacted in response to the substantial rise in volume of telemarketing calls and it remains one of the major federal statutes governing telecommunications commerce. The TCPA primarily regulates tools telemarketers use to make calls to consumers, such as automated telephone dialing systems (ATDS) and artificial and prerecorded voice recordings. The law covers calls for three types of telephone lines: (1) wireless, including SMS text messages and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services; (2) landlines; and (3) fax lines.
The TCPA places prohibitions and restrictions on telemarketing calls and text messages to wireless and residential landlines as well as robocalls to medical facilities and emergency numbers lines. To make an automated call or text message to a cell phone, an organization needs to obtain prior express consent of the individual receiving the message. However, the TCPA does permit an exception for communications made for emergency purposes that are clearly time sensitive and directly related to the mitigation of a health and safety risk to the public. Violating the TCPA can result in significant statutory damages of at least $500, and up to $1,500, per call or text.
Read the full article as Ashley Thomas assists hospitals and health care providers in navigating state law and regulatory requirements regarding emergency messaging and the TCPA.