FCC CLARIFIES SCOPE OF COVID-19 EMERGENCY CALL EXEMPTION

As TCPAWorld reported in March, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Bureau of Consumer and Governmental Affairs (Bureau) issued a Declaratory Ruling recognizing that “the COVID-19 pandemic constitutes an ‘emergency’ under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and that consequently hospitals, health care providers, state and local health officials, and other government officials may lawfully communicate information about the novel coronavirus as well as mitigation measures without violating federal law” (https://tcpaworld.com/2020/03/23/fcc-rules-coronavirus-triggers-emergency-exception-for-tcpa-purposes-in-certain-cases/)

The Bureau has now issued a further clarification regarding the scope of that COVID-19-related ruling. Specifically, in a Public Notice released July 28, 2020 (https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DA-20-793A1.pdf), the Bureau advised that:

“With this Public Notice, the Bureau confirms that the TCPA’s emergency exception also applies to calls or texts made by or on behalf of health care entities that, pursuant to guidance from federal, state, or local government officials, communicate with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19

to encourage them to donate their plasma after recovering. We find that such calls or texts serve the same purposes as those we described in the March 20 Declaratory Ruling, i.e., they are made necessary in a situation that ‘affect[s]

the health and safety of consumers,’ as such calls are critical to inform their recipients of the need for them to participate in an effort to mitigate the devastating effects of COVID-19.”

In doing so, the Bureau reminded that: “We reiterate that automated calls that contain advertising or telemarketing of services or that attempt to collect debt, even if such debt arises from related health care treatment, do not constitute calls made for an “emergency purpose” as those calls do not “affect the health and safety of consumers,” and are not directly related to an imminent health or safety risk. As a result, those calls or texts require the prior express consent of the called party.”

Callers are well advised to stay within prescribed parameters or obtain the necessary consent.

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