Do Not Call List: more than 222 million numbers registered and still growing, but robocall complaints growing

Every other year, the US Federal Trade Commission issues a report about the national Do Not Call registry to Congress. The FTC has recently released its newest report, and by all measures, the Do Not Call registry is still strong and growing. It is not without its snags, however. For example, complaints about robocalls have increased, and other circumventions of the registry have grown more creative.

DNC Registry Growth

The DNC registry began in 2003 with people registering 10 million phone numbers in just the first four days. By the end of 2003, 51 million phone numbers were in the DNC registry. The DNC registry has grown steadily each year. The new report reveals that in 2014 there were 217 million registrations by the end of the year, and by the end of Septemeber 2015, the DNC registry grew to more than 222 million active registrations. With the population of the US around 322 million individuals, the DNC registry has an extraordinarily high rate of adoption for a voluntary opt-out list. (Most US opt-out lists have a dismal rate of adoption, some lower than 2 percent.)

Businesses are steadily accessing the list, paying about $13 million in access fees to the list of active registrants each year. All totaled, between paid access and free access, about 23,000 entities accessed the registry to “scrub” their telemarketing lists.

Robocall Complaints and Agency Responses

In 2015, robocalls captured much attention from both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. The FTC notes in its report that complaints about robocalls increased dramatically. In 2009, the FTC received about 63,000 robocall complaints per month. But by 2015, that number had grown to 175,000 complaints per month. In an effort to reduce robocall problems, the FTC began hosting contests to spur innovation. In 2015, the FTC held two contests that resulted in a variety of new technical solutions to block robocalls.

While the contests are positive and have had good outcomes, the most important change regarding robocalls is likely to be the new phone call blocking rules the Federal Communications Commission adopted in June 2015. The new FCC rules specifically allow telecom companies to act to empower consumers to block robocalls. For example, telecommunication providers can “offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers and implement market-based solutions that consumers can use to stop unwanted robocalls.” Before this new ruling, there was lack of clarity as to whether telecom companies could take this step, which was widely perceived to be crucial to solving the problem.

The new FCC rules came into effect too late to make a difference in the current Do Not Call report to Congress, but the next report in 2017 will provide an important benchmark as to the effectiveness of the FTC and FCC efforts to curb robocalls.

Circumvention of the Do Not Call List

The FTC report contains an important and robust discussion about the DNC registry’s “existing business relationship” exemption, and how some lead generators and other complex business data arrangements have allowed circumvention of the consumer protections of the DNC list. The FTC has already begun to address this issue, for example, in its lead generation workshop in 2015. But the agency gets very specific and provides new clarity about the illegality of certain types of circumventions in this report. From the report:

“Telephone calls from telemarketers to phone numbers provided by lead generators generally do not fall within the established business relationship exception because, while the consumers may have a relationship with the lead generator, they do not have an established business relationship with the seller who has purchased the leads.” (FTC DNC Registry Biennial Report to Congress 2014-2015, p. 6).

This is the right conversation to be having around the DNC registry established business relationship exemptions. The FTC keeps tabs on its enforcement of the DNC registry here. This circumvention issue will be one to watch to see if the FTC will now begin to focus more on enforcing DNC registry rules in the lead generation space.

All in All ….

For consumer advocates, the news in this report is largely positive. The DNC registrations are still growing. Businesses are still accessing the registry to scrub their marketing lists, which is positive. The numbers have not gone substantively down, but it would be good to see the business access numbers grow more. The FCC rules on robocalls will hopefully bolster the FTC efforts in this area. And it is positive that the FTC has made a clear statement about the business exemption circumvention issues, including very clear statements about lead generators.

-Pam Dixon

Related documents: