FCC Report Details Efforts to Stop Illegal Robocalls While Protecting Legal Communication from Legitimate Businesses

Report reflects advocacy messaging by ACA International on the importance of communication with consumers by highly regulated, legitimate businesses in the accounts receivable management industry.

2/15/2019 8:00 AM

News
FCC Report Details Efforts to Stop Illegal Robocalls While Protecting Legal Communication from Legitimate Businesses

In its first report on initiatives and progress to end illegal robocalls, the Federal Communications Commission acknowledged the importance of continuing those efforts without blocking legal calls to consumers placed by legitimate businesses.

“Many legitimate businesses and institutions use robocalls to convey information their customers want in a cost-effective manner,” the report from the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, states. “Robocalls can reach large numbers of people quickly, making them particularly appealing for conveying time-sensitive information to large groups.”

ACA International has consistently expressed the need for consumers to receive calls from businesses using automated technology, such as debt collectors, schools or health care providers, while regulators enforce illegal calls by bad actors and develop preventative measures with phone carriers to stop those calls.

“We appreciate that the commission recognizes that there needs to be a distinction between legitimate business communications and illegal robocallers,” Leah Dempsey, ACA’s vice president and senior counsel of federal advocacy, said in comments on the FCC Second Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls in June 2018.

“While we applaud this recognition, we also reiterate our appeal to the FCC that any of its policymaking should reflect this sentiment,” Dempsey said.

In the report, the FCC’s next steps for stopping illegal robocalls include looking for further opportunities to empower call blocking without impacting legal calls.

“ACA International is pleased part of our message is being heard and is reflected in the FCC's priorities as these efforts continue,” Dempsey said. “However, the report does fail to address other concerns such as faulty blocking of calls by third party apps and problems stemming from mislabeling or distorted labeling of legitimate business calls. We will continue to provide the FCC and FTC examples of problems this can cause for consumers who are robbed of information they need because of faulty analytics or misinformation.”

The report outlines policy efforts, enforcement actions, partnership and outreach and next steps by the FTC and FCC.

Under Chairman Ajit Pai, combating illegal robocalls and malicious spoofing has been the FCC’s top consumer protection priority, according to a news release on the report. As the new report outlines, the agency has taken on this challenge with an aggressive combination of enforcement, policy and regulatory improvements, and partnerships with public and private stakeholders.

“As this report makes clear, we’re steadfastly focused on addressing this serious problem. There’s no easy or single answer, but by using every tool in our toolbox, we are fighting against the onslaught of unwanted calls that has led a lot of consumers to stop answering the phone altogether,” Pai said.

The report’s issuance follows a request from Pai this week asking for details about carriers’ caller ID authentication plans; one way for consumer to know if a call is wanted, unwanted or illegal.

Highlights from the report, according to the FCC news release, include:

Policy updates:

  • Widespread implementation by providers of the proactive blocking of invalid, unallocated and unused numbers—as authorized by a 2017 FCC rule change;
  • Significant progress toward caller ID authentication through adoption and implementation of STIR/SHAKEN standards by networks. Development of a reassigned numbers database to help legitimate callers avoid accidentally calling the wrong consumer when trying to reach a customer who had signed up for the service is underway.

Enforcement:

  • The FCC has proposed or imposed monetary forfeitures totaling $245,923,500 against violators or apparent violators of either the Truth in Caller ID Act or the Telephone Consumer Protection Act since 2010—the vast majority of which has taken place in the last two years. 
  • The FCCcontinues to push for industry-wide cooperation with agency traceback efforts—a process by which government authorities can identify the origination of many telephone calls or text messages in order to catch those violating the law.
  • The Federal Trade Commission, under its authority, has completed 140 enforcement actions against companies and telemarketers for abandoned-call, robocall, and Do Not Call Registry violations, recovering $50 million in civil penalties and $71 million in redress or disgorgement.

It also provides an update on the FCC's reassigned numbers database, authorized in December 2018, to enable callers to verify whether a telephone number has been permanently disconnected, and therefore eligible for reassignment, before calling the number. The rule approved for the database includes an important safe harbor from TCPA liability.

The FCC also faces challenges ahead in eliminating or reducing illegal robocalls, such as enforcing actions by illegal robocallers operating in foreign countries and completing investigations of TCPA violations within the one-year statute of limitations under current law.
Read the complete report from the FCC here.

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