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Student debt collectors want to robo-call your cellphone, but FCC says not so fast

August 12, 2016 / Source: The Washington Post

The Federal Communications Commission issued rules Thursday restricting companies from bombarding Americans with cellphone calls to collect any money owed to or guaranteed by the government, including federal student loans, mortgages and taxes.

“Consumers want and deserve control over the calls and text messages they receive,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement. “It is vital that we continue to use all the tools at our disposal to help protect consumers against unwanted calls.”

The new rules tighten a provision that was tucked into last fall’s congressional budget deal, amending a law meant to protect people from being harassed or inundated with text messages and calls that could run up their cellphone bills. Consumer advocates were livid at Congress for sneaking in a proposal that many said would unleash a deluge of unwanted calls and place a financial burden on people of modest means with limited cellphone plans.

Advocacy groups pressed the issue with the Department of Education, which initially argued that its student loan servicers — the middlemen that collect and apply payments — would have a better chance of helping borrowers avoid late payments with access to their cellphones. Although the department has held fast to its position, officials this summer began encouraging the FCC to limit the number of calls. Around the same time, Democratic lawmakers pleaded with the commission to impose additional protections to prevent abusive behavior.

“No matter where they originate, robo-calls are intrusive and disruptive,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who along with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote the FCC in July. He said he was pleased the commission heeded the call “to adopt critical safeguards that will protect veterans, students, farmers … from an unstoppable onslaught of robo-calls.”

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