FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Requests Changes to Call Blocking Rule

Reported changes would focus the rule on illegal scam calls and provide remedies for ‘wrongfully blocked calls.’

6/5/2019 3:30 PM

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly Requests Changes to Call Blocking Rule

Efforts by industry groups, including ACA International, for reform of the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rule on call blocking and labeling slated for a vote on Thursday appear to be paying off after Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told reporters he requested a narrower version of the rule from Chairman Ajit Pai, Law360 reports. (A subscription may be required to view the article.)

According to the report, O’Rielly requested, “at least three edits, primarily to narrow the rule to target only illegal scam calls, rather than cracking down on ‘unwanted’ ones too. O’Rielly also has asked Pai to provide redress for wrongfully blocked calls and a metric to show how well blocking tools are targeting illegal calls, a person close to the matter confirmed.”

“We’re still working through those issues with the chairman’s office,” O’Rielly told reporters Monday, according to Law360. “Hopefully we’ll be able to have a robust item that really addresses the absolute needs of consumers to deal with illegal robocalls while still protecting legitimate service and legitimate providers.”

In recent weeks, ACA and other industry groups worked to have the FCC delay Thursday’s vote and seek public comment on its proposed rule.

In May, Pai issued a proposed declaratory ruling  that would allow voice service providers to block calls using analytics that sweep in many legal calls. The proposed declaratory ruling would also require consumers to opt out of blocking services instead of opt in.

Pai discussed the proposal with Fox News Daily Briefing anchor Dana Perino on Wednesday.

“We were looking to build a safety valve into our proposal,” Pai said. “If there is a legitimate caller, we will allow that caller to file a complaint with the phone companies saying ‘you are inappropriately blocking my legal phone call,’ but if it’s an unwanted robocall at the end of the day we think with the balance stands with the consumers.”

Meanwhile, Bethany Patterson, a fellow at Americans for Tax Reform, reported on the important difference between scam robocalls and automated communications from legitimate businesses in an article “FCC Should Think Twice Before Hanging up on Robocalls.”

The dichotomy in these types of calls is paramount as the FCC’s vote on the draft declaratory ruling approaches on Thursday.

“While many people understandably rejoiced at the thought of never receiving another scam call from a ‘credit reporting agency,’ the issue is not as cut-and-dry as it seems,” Patterson writes.

Citing O’Rielly’s speech at ACA’s Washington Insights Fly-In, Patterson notes that “robocalls” aren’t always a bad thing for consumers.

“Repeat after me: ‘robocall’ is not a bad word,” O’Rielly said in his speech at the Fly-In. “There are good and legal robocalls, and there are scam and illegal robocalls, and it’s the latter that are wreaking havoc on the nation’s communications networks.”

Patterson notes the legitimate purpose of these calls, including from collection agencies working to help consumers resolve their accounts in a manageable way.

“[The FCC’s order] … could put up a roadblock for financial companies, who are required to notify customers in certain situations. In an information breach that affects millions of people, it would be nearly impossible for a company to manually reach each customer in a timely manner.

At the core of it, everybody hates robocall scams, but not every robocall is a scam. For this reason, the FCC should carefully consider how its rules affect legitimate robocalls,” Patterson concludes.

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