Information is Power During COVID-19: FCC Must Act on “Emergency Purposes” Communication

By at 2 June, 2020, 1:09 pm

By Karen Kerrigan-

Federal government agencies are continuing to find ways to provide relief and support to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.  From the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issuing temporary rules that makes it more practical and less costly to launch a Regulated Crowdfunding campaign, to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and U.S. Treasury providing extensions and relief to ease cash flow and burden, the response has been very helpful for entrepreneurs and small business owners attempting to navigate the loss of revenue and uncertainty due to COVID-19, along with their efforts to re-open successfully.

The IRS, Small Business Administration, and Federal Trade Commission have also been helpful in alerting consumers and small business owners about all the bad guys working to take advantage of just about everyone during the COVID-19 crisis. The scams, fraud and deception are occurring at massive scale, and we need to use every tool and platform available to alert consumers and small business owners about these evil schemes.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which has been doing incredible work during the COVID-19 crisis, has an opportunity to leverage the power of the private sector to further alert consumers about potential illegal activity, as well as financial information regarding how consumers can be helped during the pandemic. It can do so by issuing an emergency purposes exemption from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s (TCPA’s) consent requirement, which would allow banks, credit unions and other customer-facing financial institutions to call or text their customers regarding these specific matters.

In a March 30 petition to the FCC, the American Banking Association (ABA) and other financial industry trade groups requested immediate relief and confirmation that these critically important calls related to COVID-19 are exempt from TCPA requirements, as they are being made “for emergency purposes.”

Unfortunately, the FCC has not yet acted upon this reasonable request.

Obviously, the nation is well into the COVID-19 crisis. The painful financial effects are hitting millions of Americans very hard. Although it would have been desirable for the FCC to act weeks ago, the agency must not allow another day to go by without issuing a declaration. A confirmation of the “emergency purposes” status, or a temporary waiver needs to be communicated by the FCC right away.

By confirming the exempt status of these calls, the FCC will ensure that no barrier gets in the way of consumers receiving calls and texts about critical information that involves potential fraud or financial help.

Small business owners in particular have been the target of many scams – including those involving tax matters and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – and they would welcome this form of outreach by their bank or credit union. The last thing a business owner needs at this point in time is to be the victim of fraud, when they need to be focusing all of their time and energy on re-opening successfully and fighting for survival.

Beyond fraud alerts regarding a customer’s account, these calls and texts include those that could offer payment deferrals and other loan modifications; advise consumers of branch closings, reduced hours, or the availability of remote banking options. Again, important information that is vital during the COVID-19 crisis.

In letters to the FCC, both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Consumer Law Center both support exempting a limited number of calls to offer forbearance, payment deferrals, fee waivers, extension or relaxation of repayment terms, or loan modifications on loans secured by homes or vehicles. Of course, no one can argue that a consumer should not receive information about potential fraudulent activity involving their account.

The clock is ticking for many consumers and small business owners who need relief and communication about options to survive the COVID-19 crisis. The FCC has remained extraordinarily responsive on many issues impacting small business – from rural broadband access, to 5G and much more. Small business owners certainly want the type of communications and security that would come from the ABA’s petition to immediately provide interim relief from the TCPA.

The FCC must act on the petition right away.

ACTION ITEM: If you agree, that the FCC needs to act on this common sense support that will help your small business, you can file a comment here. The docket number is 02-278, and voice your support for this action by letting the FCC know that you support the ABA petition for an Expedited Declaratory Ruling, Clarification, or Waiver for this limited bur important communication under the Rules and Regulations Implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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