Ringless voicemail

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Ringless voicemail, also called a voicemail drop, is a method in which a pre-recorded audio message is placed in a voicemail inbox without the associated telephone ringing first. This practice is commonly associated with spamming and debt collection services.[1]

Legal Status in the United States[edit]

Although the FCC was petitioned to exempt the practice from robocall laws, the petition was dropped after it raised controversy.[2] However there are already case laws that make the practice illegal in many circumstances.

United States courts have ruled multiple times[3] that voicemail is subject to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act the same as a regular telephone call, which has the effect of making voicemail drops that contain an unsolicited advertisement or debt collection calls illegal in all circumstances where the recipient phone number belongs to a rate limited account. Such messages, therefore, are a violation subject to fines and civil liability, even if the call went unanswered or the voice message wasn't opened, and the person called does not need to prove that they were billed for any calls to win the case.[4][5] Such messages may also be illegal in cases where the phone number is listed on the FTC's do not call list.

Controversy surrounding Ringless Voicemail in Canada[edit]

Bell Canada complained that their networks were being jammed by the large volumes of outgoing messages and that they had to spend a significant amount of money to upgrade their capacity. After one customer complaint a court battle between Bell Canada and CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) ensued.[6]

The CTRC received a letter from Infolink Communications Inc. (Infolink), dated 7 September 2001, requesting that the Commission prevent Bell Canada from suspending or terminating the services that it provided to Infolink. In a letter dated 5 September 2001, Bell Canada had requested that Infolink take the necessary steps to comply with Bell Canada's General Tariff item 1800 (GT Item 1800). Bell Canada also indicated that GT Item 1800 allows Bell Canada to suspend or terminate all telephone lines which contravene GT Item 1800 on two business days’ notice.[7]

Infolink argued that there was nothing illegal about it because CRTC did not have any legislation to cover ringless voice messaging, while Bell tried to label it as an Automatic Dialing and Announcing device (ADAD), including that these types of messages were used to make unsolicited calls for the purpose of solicitation. Bell Canada also submitted that Infolink's interpretation of the term "call" as requiring a ringing telephone was too narrow. Bell Canada submitted that a call was a transmission of information between parties by means of telecommunications and included initiating a transmission as well as attempts to initiate such a transmission.[8]

Infolink submitted that ringless voice messaging did not meet the definition of an ADAD, as specified in GT Item 1800, because there was no call to the telephone subscriber. Rather, the messages involved non real-time computer-to-computer communication which engaged the voice mailbox of the recipient, not the message recipient. Infolink claimed that, since there was no ringing telephone and the message recipient's telephone line was not engaged when the message was deposited in the recipient's voice mailbox, there was no "call" and therefore a material part of the definition of an ADAD, which related to "the telephone number called" was not satisfied.

Infolink also submitted that ringless voicemail did not cause the undue inconvenience or nuisance that the Commission sought to eliminate by prohibiting ADADs. Infolink submitted that the evidence from subscribers regarding the annoyance of ADADs had indicated that their activities were interrupted by ringing telephones at various times of day, they were being put on hold until an operator was free and they could not use their telephone immediately after an ADAD call because their line was still tied up.

In October 2004, there was a CRTC hearing in Ottawa in which Infolink won the case and ringless messaging was officially deemed a legal service in Canada.[9]

References[edit]