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FCC To Robo-Dialing Pollsters: Can You Hear Me Now?

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A class action lawsuit quietly making its way through the courts reminds us at Competitive Edge Research & Communication that avoiding the temptation to cut corners is always in the best interests of our clients.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits any commercial enterprise, including research firms like Competitive Edge, from using automatic telephone dialing systems, or auto-dialers, to make calls to mobile phones without their permission in advance. That’s how the FCC interprets a clause in the now antiquated Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. The original intention behind this rule is to protect mobile phone users from being charged for excess phone minute usage against their wishes.

Red-Rotary-Dial-PhoneWe were reminded at Competitive Edge once again why we don’t push the limits on this rule. A federal judge in Pennsylvania recently cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit against a Florida company, Global Marketing Research Service (GMRS), for doing this very thing when conducting business and political survey research. Pennsylvania resident Alicia Thompson filed the lawsuit on behalf of cellphone customers in Pennsylvania for not obtaining their consent before GMRS called them conducting business and political survey research. This case is now being combined with another case already pending against the company in Florida for the same alleged misdeed.

Should GMRS lose the case, it could cost a pretty penny. The Gallup Organization recently settled a TCPA violation lawsuit with a $12 million settlement. Ouch.

Also worrisome, the definition of what is considered an “automatic telephone dialing system” had been debate and it’s a huge controversy in our industry. The FCC keeps expanding its interpretation. It seems to cover any kind of dialing technology that isn’t strictly one human being hand-dialing another, one phone to another phone. After the Gallup case, the FCC toughened up the restrictions even more, defining an “autodialer” as “any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers.” Does this include phone or texting apps, VOIP phones, or tablets? Maybe we shouldn’t have been so quick to throw away those rotary dial phones.

There are plenty of hungry trial lawyers out there looking for ways to make money when companies like ours “slip up.” Class action lawsuits against survey, opinion, and marketing research firms make lucrative targets.

At Competitive Edge, we are diligent about making sure our business and our clients are never targets of these legal assaults. It means the well-trained members of our call center staff dialing individual numbers will keep us on the right side of the law at all times. There is a higher price tag attached, but it is a far lower cost than a lawsuit. We’ll never be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to the work we do. High quality, accurate research is an investment you won’t ever regret.

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