NASHVILLE — Tennesseans exhausted by text messages, including spam, bombarding their cellphones and other devices may find some relief under a new state law that took effect July 1 that seeks to cede more control over to consumers.
The "Do Not Text" provision was approved by state lawmakers this spring and has been added to Tennessee's existing Do Not Call Registry.
Representatives and senators, who during brief debate described their own frustrations about being inundated with unsolicited texts, approved it with no dissenting votes.
"I don't know about y'all, but I'm certainly sick of getting unsolicited messages, and I know my constituents are as well," state House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, who sponsored the lower chamber's version of Senate Bill 868, told colleagues in March as he summed up frustrations over the unwanted texts. "They just light up your phone on a regular basis."
Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, sponsored the Senate bill.
There are some exceptions. For example, debt collection agencies and political candidates are not subject to the Do Not Text restrictions.
According to a legislative fiscal analysis, the legislation requires a person or entity wanting to make text solicitations to pay an annual registration fee of $500 to receive access to the register.
It prescribes a maximum penalty of $2,000 for each violation of a text solicitation to a person who is listed on the register.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, voted for the legislation in hopes of curbing unwanted calls and texts. But Hakeem said by phone he is not sure what real effect it will have.
"I think it's gotten to an extreme point" with both unsolicited calls and texts, Hakeem said, noting unsolicited calls still come through. "I think the law needs an opportunity to serve the purpose for why it was put in place. I do have people who have shared with me as well as me receiving unsolicited texts we don't want to have. After a year or two, maybe we can evaluate it and see if it's of benefit to the general public."
The Tennessee Public Utility Commission operates the program. It's regulatory agency has combined its new Do Not Text operational duties with the state's existing Do Not Call law. The revised program is now known as the Do Not Call/Do Not Text Register. The law prohibits those attempting to sell consumer goods and services by phone and text from calling telephone numbers that appear on the Register. Consumers will need to register.
There is a caveat. Business phone numbers may not be included on the list.
And there are also these exceptions:
— Telephone solicitors may still call/text in response to an express invitation or permission by the person being called.
— Solicitors may call/text on behalf of a not-for-profit organization if the call/text is made by a member of the specific not-for-profit organization.
— Soliciting is allowed if the person or entity making the call/text has had a business relationship with the person being called/texted within the previous 12 months.
— Solicitation is permitted if the business calling/texting does not sell or engage in telephone solicitation and does not make more than three calls/texts in any one calendar week.
Consumers can register for the Do Not Call/Do Not Text Register online at bit.ly/DoNotText or by phone at 877-872-7030.
NON-U.S. 'BAD ACTORS' ARE A MAJOR HEADACHE
Tim Schwarz, the Tennessee Public Utility Commission director of communications and external affairs, said by phone the program works for businesses and other entities interested in obeying the law. Problems come from outside the United States, he said.
"It's hard from an enforcement standpoint for the Attorney General's Office or the Utility Commission to take action because we just don't have jurisdiction overseas in that way," Schwarz said of the state agencies.
He said he sees Lamberth's legislation as seeking to address texting, which "just hasn't been done.
"We've treated it the same way. If you're on that Do Not Call list, you don't have to take any further action, you're going to be included. It's like one list now, Do Not Call and Do Not Text Registry. So if you're on one, you're on both," Schwarz said.
The Federal Communications Commission maintains its own do-not-call registry.
"They have a hard time also," Schwarz said. The state attorney general "has tried as well on the spoofing side, which is what most of it is. It's spoofing where they disguise the phone numbers, and their technology is pretty well advanced and they can just blast calls. And what they're trying to do is see if the numbers are working numbers, and they'll package and sell them.
"We advise people if you see a number and you don't recognize it, don't answer it because you're essentially verifying that it's a working phone number. So if you don't answer unwanted calls, you should see the number go down."
Regarding unknown texts, Schwarz said if you receive one, just ignore and delete it.
"If it's a real problem, file a complaint with the commission, and we will look into it," he said.
The FCC says on its website that unwanted calls — including illegal calls and robocalls in which a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a recipient's's caller ID display to disguise their identity — are the FCC's "top consumer complaint" and its top consumer protection priority.
Those include complaints from consumers whose numbers are being spoofed, where the call or whose calls are being mistakenly blocked or labeled as a possible scam call by a robocall blocking app or service. The agency says it is "committed to doing what we can to protect you from these unwelcome situations" and is cracking down on illegal calls in multiple ways, including issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in enforcement actions against illegal robocallers.
The FCC has allowed phone companies to block by default illegal or unwanted calls based on "reasonable call analytics" before the calls reach consumers, the agency said on its website. It has allowed consumer options on tools to block calls from any number that doesn't appear on a customer's contact list or other "white list." It's required phone companies to implement caller ID authentication to help reduce illegal spoofing and has made consumer complaint data available to enable better call blocking and labeling solutions, the agency's website said.