FCC cites robocallers for illegal campaign messages to cellphones


Many consumers complained they had signed up for the government’s Do Not Call Registry but still received unwanted calls on their mobile phones during elections. (JAY DIRECTO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
March 15, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday accused two robocalling groups of illegally bombarding wireless phone users with millions of unsolicited campaign calls in 2011 and 2012.

The companies placed calls for both GOP and Democratic campaigns without permission from consumers, the FCC said in its citations. The firms, Dialing Services and Democratic Dialing, also failed to properly identify themselves to people they called, the FCC alleged.

Many consumers complained they had signed up for the government’s Do Not Call Registry but still received unwanted calls on their mobile phones during local elections and the 2012 presidential campaign, the FCC said.

The agency warned the firms to stop making the calls within 15 days. If they are found to restart the practice, they can be fined as much as $16,000 per call.

“Consumers have increasingly been sounding the alarm on robocalls, rightly complaining about unwanted, intrusive cell phone calls and text messages from strangers, or worse yet computers,” Michele Ellison, chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement. “These citations set the stage for significant monetary penalties if violations continue.”

Democratic Dialing’s Web site boasts the ability to send 1 million automated calls per hour. Based in Denver, the firm is mainly used by Democratic campaigns to reach potential voters and encourage them to head to the polls, the firm’s Web site said. A phone number on the company’s Web site did not allow a reporter to leave a voice message. The company did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Chris Kolker, founder of Dialing Services, based in Roswell, N.M., said he did not receive the FCC citation yet, but said he “cooperated with the FCC investigation.”

He said his firm specializes in robocalls for Republican local and national campaigns and declined to comment further without advice from a lawyer.

The FCC said communications law generally prohibits robocalls and auto-dialed calls, including voice messages and texts, to wireless phones unless they are granted permission from users or are for emergencies.

The FCC said its investigations found that “none of the calls made by either company were for an emergency purpose. When FCC staff spoke to a sampling of call recipients directly, not one of them had ever given permission to anyone to robocall them on their wireless phones.”

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Cecilia Kang is a national technology reporter, writing about tech and Internet policies at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission and how regulations affect businesses and consumers.
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