Senators Are Wrong to Urge ED Not to Allow Collectors to Use Autodialer

Last month Congress passed a budget deal that includes a provision to allow those collecting federal student loans to call consumer cell phones using an autodialer (ATDS). In an article I wrote about it at the time, I noted that some were determined to get the provision rolled back.

This week, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the Department of Education (ED) urging the department not to allow “unsolicited robocalling by debt collectors.” The letter goes on about how, to date, the [TCPA] law has protected consumers from unwanted, harassing phone calls to their cell phones, and this will open the floodgates.

I’d like to comment.

First, the underlying purpose of the TCPA was explicitly not to protect consumers from debt collectors, or others with a legitimate business relationship with a consumer. It was indeed to eliminate a barrage of telemarketing calls about products or services people may or may not want

Second, the term “robocalling” is unfortunate; it congers up a negative image of “robots” repeatedly making random phone calls to every number in the book. This is not the purpose of using a “machine” dialer to make collection calls.

The ability for ED contractors who collect student debt to use an automated dialer is simply giving them the ability to use the latest equipment – which is essential to ensuring the ability to comply with an extremely complex set of state and federal laws – to reach consumers on the only phone they have.

The Senators say there should be evidence that using the dialer to call cell phones would benefit borrowers and taxpayers.

Well, yes. The evidence is that if ED (or its representatives) can’t communicate with people, they can’t help them. The reality is that many consumers don’t respond to mail. An increasing amount of consumers only have a mobile phone. Sophisticated collectors (like the ones who make significant investment in technology and infrastructure in order to be selected by ED) use autodialers. Yes, to be more efficient, but also to ensure they remove as much opportunity for human error in compliance with many, many specific laws.

Some in Congress, as well as some consumer advocates, feel that less communication between consumers and those who represent their creditors (indeed, most collectors do not buy debt; they work for the creditor) is better. We think more communication (no, not harassment) is a faster path to resolution.

By Stephanie Eidelman