FCC to Vote on Narrow Call Blocking Rules at November Open Meeting


10/30/2017 10:00 AM

In its continuing efforts to target unlawful robocalls, the FCC’s Report and Order seeks to adopt rules in line with its March rulemaking proposal to allow voice service providers the ability to block four specific categories of “spoofed” calls that are highly unlikely to be made for any legitimate purpose.

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The Federal Communications Commission is wasting no time in moving forward with giving voice service providers the ability to block certain categories of “spoofed” calls that are most likely to harm consumers in its continuing effort to thwart illegal robocallers. According to a tentative agenda released by Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a Report and Order that will allow limited provider-initiated call blocking without running afoul of call completion rules at its next Open Meeting in November. 

Consistent with the earlier Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) adopted in March, the Report and Order “outlines specific, well-defined circumstances in which voice service providers may block calls that are highly likely to be illegitimate because there is no lawful reason to spoof certain kinds of numbers,” according to the FCC. 

Specifically, the Report and Order codifies guidance that voice service providers may block spoofed calls when the subscriber of the spoofed number requests it, as well as permit providers to block calls from certain categories of spoofed numbers in which the FCC sees no legitimate, lawful purpose for spoofing.  These include invalid numbers, valid numbers that are not allocated and valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned. 

The FCC’s open meeting is at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Nov. 16 and will be available to watch on the FCC’s website.

ACA International’s Advocacy

In July, ACA International filed comments supporting the call blocking NPRM asserting that the limited, well-defined categories of spoofed calls identified by the FCC appear to strike an appropriate balance between combating illegal robocallers, protecting consumers, and preserving the flow of important informational calls from legitimate businesses to consumers. 

However, ACA emphasized that while it supported the narrow categories in the NPRM, it was deeply concerned about the issues raised in the related Notice of Inquiry (NOI) which explored the possibility of developing a future framework in which legitimate business calls containing important information could be mistakenly blocked by voice service providers.  As a result, ACA urged the FCC to move forward on the measures in the NPRM while refraining from considering the much more complicated issues raised in the NOI.

The Report and Order does just that, but improper blocking and labeling of lawful business calls is already occurring in the context of consumer-initiated call blocking tools which were given the green light in the FCC’s omnibus 2015 TCPA Declaratory Ruling and Order.  As ACA has been reporting, legitimate businesses are increasingly discovering their calls are showing up on consumer phones as “suspected scam” or are even being blocked outright due to consumer-initiated call blocking and labeling tools that are currently in the marketplace. 

The misclassification of legitimate business calls as scams and the blocking of such calls is a serious issue that threatens the fundamental ability of debt collectors to communicate with consumers to share important account information.  ACA is committed to finding a way to put an end to the unintended consequences of “robocall blocking,” which – although well intentioned – has the potential to be devastating to individual businesses and to the industry as a whole.

In addition to its multi-prong advocacy efforts on this issue, ACA is conducting ongoing outreach to its members related to their experience with mistakenly blocked and/or misclassified calls.  If you are an ACA member who has already been improperly impacted by call blocking tools, please share your experience with ACA through our Call Blocking Intake Form

Finally, a session on robocall blocking developments will be featured during ACA’s 2017 Fall Forum & Expo. Michele Shuster, partner at Mac Murray & Shuster LLP and general counsel for the Professional Association of Customer Engagement, along with Karl Koster, chief IP and regulatory counsel for Noble Systems Corporation, will discuss the various approaches being deployed by voice service providers related to call blocking and labeling, the unanticipated negative impacts to subscribers and call originators, and industry efforts to fix this serious problem.

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