ACA Responds to FCC’s Proposed Declaratory Ruling on Call Blocking

ACA urges FCC to provide guidance to correct actions that cause faulty blocking or mislabeling of calls as a result of the proposed ruling.

5/17/2019 11:30 AM

ACA Responds to FCC’s Proposed Declaratory Ruling on Call Blocking

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has issued a proposed declaratory ruling to allow phone companies to block unwanted calls to their customers by default—which ACA International generally supports as long as the systems do not improperly impede calls from legitimate businesses to consumers. In our initial review of the proposal there are problematic aspects for legitimate businesses such as permitting telephone companies to block “unwanted” robocalls by default and  blocking all calls from numbers that are not in a consumer’s contact lists.

Leah Dempsey, ACA International senior counsel and vice president of federal advocacy, released the following statement to The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Law in reference to the declaratory ruling:

“We strongly support tailored efforts to combat illegal and fraudulent robocalls which are a huge problem for all of us who are consumers,” Dempsey said. “However, consumer harm results when legitimate business calls are blocked or mislabeled and people do not receive critical, sometimes exigent information they need. We have urged the FCC to provide guidance on how to immediately correct any faulty blocking or mislabeling of calls.”

The proposed declaratory ruling will be considered by the FCC at its open commission meeting on June 6.  Pai also announced he is expecting major phone companies to have caller ID authentication  systems in place this year. Unlike proposed rules that frequently take a year or more to become effective, if adopted this declaratory ruling could take effect in three weeks.

The accompanying draft Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose a safe harbor for providers that implement network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework once it is implemented, according to the FCC.

“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” Pai said in the news release. “By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them.”

According to the FCC:

Pai demanded that carriers adopt these standards to combat malicious spoofing. This system of signing calls as legitimate as they pass through the phone networks may well be useful for call blocking tools.

With the expectation that such standards will be available later this year, Pai is proposing in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to create a safe harbor for calls that are blocked because they are not authenticated under the SHAKEN/STIR framework.

ACA has been working with both Congress and the FCC to ensure that call originators have a seat at the table in authentication requirement discussions as SHAKEN/STIR moves forward, including through discussions at ACA's Washington Insights Fly-In.

Pai also announced he is expecting major phone companies to have caller ID authentication  systems in place this year. Pai will host a summit on July 11, 2019, to examine industry’s progress toward meeting this deadline. The summit will also identify any challenges to deployment of the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication framework and discuss how best to overcome them, according to a news release from the FCC .

FCC Testifies Before House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

House legislators heard testimony from all five members of the FCC during a May 15 hearing “Accountability and Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission,” including discussion of efforts to end illegal robocalls.

ACA International has consistently advocated for congressional committees to consider several points as they continue to conduct oversight of the FCC:

  • Telephone Consumer Protection Act interpretations remain onerous and create unclear compliance expectations that leave businesses vulnerable to frivolous class action litigation. The FCC must act to clarify its interpretations of the TCPA as directed by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (D.C. Circuit) after the decision in ACA Int’l v. FCC;
  • New call blocking and labeling technologies are unfairly impeding calls from credit and collection professionals and other legitimate businesses, in some instances in deceptive ways, or ways that engage in slanderous labeling of legitimate calls; and
  • Several other regulators including the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy; and the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB or Bureau) have recognized the importance of legitimate businesses having the ability to communicate with consumers.

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