PPP among those hoping to overturn restrictions on recorded messages

Posted May 13, 2016

Consumer Reports puts new iPhone to the test

— Under current federal rules, pollsters and political campaigns are not allowed to call mobile phones with pre-recorded messages.

Press 1 if you agree.

Press 2 if you disagree, or better yet file a federal lawsuit.

Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling is among five plaintiffs suing to block enforcement of Federal Communications Commission rules put in place last year that toughened a provision of the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act. If they're successful, consumers could be fielding recorded political ads and surveys on their mobile devices just as they do at home.

A spokesman for the FCC said the agency had not seen the complaint and did not have a comment.

The law was designed to shield consumers from unwanted calls at a time when text messages were expensive and the majority of unwanted calls came to land lines. More than two decades later, 43 percent of American adults live in households that have only mobile phones, according to the Pew Research Center. For pollsters such as PPP, reaching this population is critical in order to ensure representative samples but increasingly expensive because their automated methods are not allowed.

"It's harder to poll and account for poorer populations and younger segments of society who tend only to have cell phones and no landline," said Russ Swindell, client strategist for PPP.

PPP can use prerecorded surveys that ask recipients to press a telephone button to record their answers to questions.

In order to reach those with mobile phones, a pollster such as PPP has to use a live operator or reach them through pre-screened Internet panels. Live operators must hand-dial the number in question, rather than rely on an auto-dialer. Both those provisions make polling more time-consuming and expensive, Swindell said.

Companies who are sued and found responsible for violating those prohibitions can be fined $500 per call.

PPP, along with the American Association of Political Consultants, the Democratic Party of Oregon, Tea Party Forward PAC and the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, filed suit in North Carolina's Eastern District on Thursday to overturn those prohibitions.

The plaintiffs' case hinges on the fact that Congress has granted six exemptions to the law, including for package delivery or certain kinds of debt collection.

"By favoring commercial speech over Plaintiffs’ political speech, the cell phone call ban violates the constitutional rights of these political organizations," the lawsuit reads.

The suit says the rules are unconstitutional because they treat different kinds of speech differently based on content, something the First Amendment doesn't allow.

"The cell phone call ban is an impermissible means of advancing any legitimate interest of Defendant. The cell phone call ban is therefore unconstitutional," the suit reads.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • George Herbert May 16, 2016
    user avatar

    The problem is that changing the rules for legitimate polling companies will also open up other companies to calling cell phone numbers with push polls.

  • Dixie Ryder May 16, 2016
    user avatar

    I would leave well enough alone. The buzzards either bother you at work or during dinner. Than if lucky enough to have a little family time, before going to second job. I don't want your babble! I can make up my own mind. If you happen to call, you will get a mighty angry piece of it.

  • Robert Richardson May 15, 2016
    user avatar

    Let me put it plainly for anyone who works at these polling places that may read these comments. I do NOT want to receive your polling calls on my personal cell phone. I don't care what your excuses are for doing so.

  • John Miller May 14, 2016
    user avatar

    Come on, WRAL. Enough of the gratuitous Apple placements.