Student loan borrowers should be aware of a proposed rule by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued on May 6, 2016. It implements a new law that allows robocalls and texts to be made to a cell phone without the consumer’s consent “to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” This law, which amends the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, was proposed by the Obama Administration and jammed through Congress as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (Section 301, signed 10/2/15). The exemption would permit these robocalls and texts by debt collectors of federal debt—primarily student loan borrowers that are delinquent on federal student loans, as well as taxpayers pursued by private collectors—subject to the regulations implemented by the FCC.
Fortunately, the proposed rules contain strong consumer protections. While student loan servicers and debt collectors will now be allowed to autodial a borrower on his or her cell phone (and send texts and deliver prerecorded messages) without permission if the borrower is behind on a student loan, there are limits on those calls. The FCC has proposed to limit those calls to three calls per month and would require that callers obey consumers’ requests to stop calling them. NCLC and other consumer advocates have applauded the FCC’s proposal and have previously highlighted the importance of having strong protections.
Unfortunately, the FCC is facing resistance and if industry groups get their way, these strong consumer protections may not make it into the final rule. It is really important that the FCC hears from consumers who have been harmed by robocalls. You can provide your own story of abusive calls from debt collectors by filing your own comments with the FCC.
Additionally, as it currently stands the proposed consumer protections are not in the text of the rule itself, but only in the language accompanying the rule, which makes it much more difficult for consumers to determine their rights. We are recommending that the FCC include the protections in the rule itself.
Please also consider commenting on the FCC’s proposals to:
- Limit calls/texts to cell phones to three per month, as a way of reducing harassment of student loan debtors.
- Give consumers the right to request that robocalls stop, and require callers to notify consumers of this right.
- Consumer protections should be in the actual rule so that consumers can easily look up the law and know their rights.
The FCC is accepting comments on the proposed rule until June 6, 2016, and reply comments through June 21, 2016. Student loan borrowers and others can file comments with the FCC electronically by going to the FCC website. The Proceeding Number is 02-278.