FCC Approves Call Blocking and Labeling Ruling

FCC issues ruling blocking calls by default; addresses some of ACA’s concerns surrounding erroneous blocking.

6/10/2019 8:00 AM

FCC Approves Call Blocking and Labeling Ruling

A declaratory ruling released by the Federal Communications Commission on June 6 allows voice service providers to block illegal and “unwanted” calls as the default before they reach consumers’ phones. The ruling, which went into effect immediately, requires providers to give consumers the opportunity to opt-out of the call blocking service.

In a vote June 6, the FCC unanimously approved the ruling with Chairman Ajit Pai and commissioners Brendan Carr and Geoffrey Starks voting in favor of the full measure while Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel approved it in part and dissented in part.

After extensive advocacy led by ACA International, the ruling contains some critical changes from the draft version released in May. Most notably, the addition of paragraph 38 in the ruling directly addresses ACA’s advocacy efforts seeking redress for erroneously blocked calls.

It states:

“while some parties have expressed concern about blocking of calls required for compliance with other laws, rules, or policy considerations, we believe that a reasonable call-blocking program instituted by default would include a point of contact for legitimate callers to report what they believe to be erroneous blocking as well as a mechanism for such complaints to be resolved. Further, callers who believe their calls have been unfairly blocked may seek review of a call-blocking program they believe to be unreasonable by filing a petition for declaratory ruling with the Commission. We also encourage voice service providers that block calls to develop a mechanism for notifying callers that their calls have been blocked.”

ACA is pleased that some industry concerns have been addressed. However, the uncertainty about the process of filing complaints with carriers to seek redress and whether carriers will inform callers in a timely and efficient way about blocking remain a potential challenge. ACA plans to continue to seek additional clarity surrounding these welcomed additions to the ruling.

ACA also remains concerned that the ruling does not adequately address consumer choice and the wide swath of legal calls that will be swept into requirements to opt-out rather than opt-in. Instead it makes the argument that if a consumer, “has been afforded notice that call-blocking is offered and decides not to opt out, that consumer has made an informed choice to participate in a lawful call-blocking program.” However, there are no uniform disclosures or other specific requirements for putting consumers on notice of the need to opt-out rather than opt-in.

Commissioner O’Rielly led efforts to narrow the focus to only illegal scam calls. He also sought to provide relief for wrongfully blocked calls while analyzing the effectiveness of the call blocking tools against illegal calls.

Efforts to stop illegal and fraudulent calls should not restrict legitimate calls, O’Rielly said during Thursday’s meeting.

“I am concerned about encouraging blocking of so-called unwanted calls,” O’Rielly said. “I worry consumers will only realize important calls have been blocked after it’s too late.”

In response to O’Rielly’s requests, Pai said the declaratory ruling would include the discussed mechanisms for legitimate callers to file complaints when calls are blocked.

The declaratory ruling also clarifies that voice service providers may offer customers the option to block calls from any number that does not appear on a customer’s “white list” or contacts list, on an opt-in basis.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, ACA International and other trade groups met with the FCC several times and filed ex partes, urging it to delay its vote and seek public comment and make changes to the ruling.

“While ACA International recognizes that illegal robocalls are a serious problem and supports efforts to combat them, we still fear that the ruling will cause consumers to miss important business and informational calls,” said ACA International CEO Mark Neeb. “We appreciate that the FCC listened to ACA’s concerns and added language to the ruling recognizing that legitimate callers should have redress when calls are erroneously blocked and that there should be mechanisms for notifying callers that their calls have been blocked. The workability of these provisions could be the matter of life and death for some consumers, and certainly impacts their ability to be informed about health and safety issues, and delinquencies that impact their future ability to access credit and goods and services.”

In noting her disagreement with parts of the ruling, Commissioner Rosenworcel questioned whether carriers would charge consumers for the call blocking services.

“There is nothing in our decision today [June 6] that prevents carriers from charging consumers with this blocking technology to stop robocalls. I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers,” Rosenworcel said. “We should be upfront and clear with consumers that today’s decision offers no more than an expectation that phone companies installing this technology will not charge consumers the premium for its use.”

As part of the June 6 meeting, the FCC also adopted a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that proposes requiring voice service providers to implement the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication framework if they fail to do so by the end of this year.

If necessary, Pai said the FCC will take regulatory action if the deadline is not met.

The FNPRM will be open for public comment upon publication in the Federal Register. There will also be the opportunity to comment on whether the FCC should create a safe harbor for providers that block calls that are maliciously spoofed so that caller ID cannot be authenticated and for providers that block calls that are “unsigned.”

Under the SHAKEN/STIR framework—a set of protocols and a multi-phase framework developed with the input of many stakeholders—calls traveling through interconnected phone networks would have their caller ID “signed” as legitimate by originating carriers and validated by other carriers before reaching consumers, according to the FCC. The framework digitally validates the handoff of phone calls passing through the complex web of networks, allowing the phone company of the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is from the person making it.

Pai will also host a summit on July 11, 2019, to examine industry’s progress toward meeting the SHAKEN/STIR 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 .

Meanwhile, ACA International will continue to work to educate the FCC about how its actions are impacting legitimate callers in the financial services industry and many other industries. ACA International also plans to file comments surrounding the FNPRM that was released in conjunction with the Declaratory Ruling.  Subscribe to ACA Daily for continued updates on this issue as well as other advocacy and regulatory updates.

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