Keep Lines of Communication Open: It’s Time for the FCC to Provide Redress for Lawful Callers


In comments on the FCC’s proposed rule on unlawful robocalls and call blocking, ACA International and joint trades outline shared goals of protecting consumers while ensuring they receive important, time-sensitive calls from lawful businesses.

9/2/2020 9:00

As the Federal Communications Commission is working to implement requirements of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act), ACA International and a group of joint trades are urging the regulator to ensure redress options are in place for businesses experiencing call blocking and labeling.

In July, the FCC sought comment on how it can further implement the TRACED Act’s requirements, including how quickly voice service providers should be required to notify the caller of an erroneously blocked call and how quickly providers should be required to remove the block, ACA previously reported.

“Congress was clear that the commission’s rules should not result in the blocking of lawful calls. The TRACED Act requires the commission to ‘ensure [that] robocall blocking services . . . are provided with transparency and effective redress options for . . . callers,’” the comment letter from ACA, the Credit Union National Association, American Bankers Association, American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management, Mortgage Bankers Association, American Financial Services Association, Consumer Bankers Association, National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions, and the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, states. “While the commission has taken strides in recent months to begin implementing the TRACED Act, important, often time-sensitive, calls from legitimate callers continue to be frequently blocked and mislabeled. Important work remains to satisfy the act’s statutory requirements.”

In fact, according to the Number Sentry Accounts Receivable Management Outbound Calling Study, 21% of 240,000 call events evaluated in February 2020 were blocked. For every 1 million calls made in the accounts receivable management industry, approximately 210,000 will never be delivered to the consumer.

ACA and the joint trades share the FCC’s goal to eliminate illegal automated calls. At the same time, it is critical that the commission’s rules governing call blocking practices protect consumers from the risk that they might not receive important, often time-sensitive, calls from legitimate businesses. It is critical for consumers that these calls be completed without delay. For some calls, whether the call is completed “can have life or death consequences for the intended recipient,” as the Senate’s report on the TRACED Act concluded.

Highlights from the joint comment letter and the trades’ requests for the FCC include:

  • Requiring voice service providers to notify callers immediately when a call is blocked. The lawful calls that companies seek to place — safety alerts, fraud alerts, data security breach notifications, product safety recall notices, healthcare and prescription reminders, power outage updates, and other account updates and reminders — must be completed immediately if the call is to have its full, intended benefit to the call recipient. Therefore, any block on a number used to place the outbound call must be removed expeditiously.
  • Requiring voice service providers to remove erroneous blocks promptly—no later than 24 hours after the provider learns of the block.
  • Prohibiting a voice service provider from blocking a call that cannot be authenticated under the STIR/SHAKEN call authentication framework because the call originated from a provider that cannot sign calls or the call traveled through a provider that is unable to transmit the authentication information.
  • Requiring voice service providers to apply the TRACED Act redress mechanisms to the third-party call-labeling services that providers utilize.

The joint trades also note that many voice service providers, including all major wireless providers, partner with third-party call-labeling services to place a “label” on calls—such as “Potential Spam,” “Suspected Spam,” “Spam Number,” “Nuisance Label,” or other derogatory label—based on the third-party service’s analytics.

“We urge the commission to require voice service providers partnering with these call-labeling services to abide by the same redress requirements adopted for blocking when they apply a derogatory label to the call,” the letter states. “Specifically, the commissioner should require voice service providers to notify a caller immediately when a derogatory label is placed on the caller’s call and remove an erroneous label within 24 hours of learning of the error.”

Deadlines for the FCC on the TRACED Act include:

  • Sept. 25, 2020: Promulgate regulations to implement the act’s civil forfeiture provisions.
  • Dec. 24, 2020: The Hospital Robocall Protection Group must issue best practices regarding how service providers can combat unlawful robocalls made to hospitals, how hospitals can better protect themselves, and how federal and state governments can help combat these calls.
  • Dec. 30, 2020: This is the deadline for multiple requirements, including a report to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Commerce Committee on analysis of the extent to which providers have implemented call authentication frameworks and assessment of the efficacy of call authentication frameworks.
  • June 23, 2021: Conclude a proceeding to assess the extent to which the voluntary adoption of the Hospital Robocall Protection Group’s suggested best practices can be facilitated to protect hospitals and other institutions.
  • June 30, 2021: The FCC must require IP Networks to implement SHAKEN/STIR and Non-IP Networks to take “reasonable measures to implement effective call authentication framework.”

On July 16, the FCC voted to adopt an order on call blocking and labeling that includes two safe harbors for voice service providers and some protections for legitimate calls. ACA is awaiting the release of the final order, ACA previously reported.  

The July 31 proposed rule is a summary of the commission’s fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in CG Docket No. 17-59, FCC 20-96, adopted on July 16, 2020, and released on July 17, 2020.

Reply comments on the proposed rule are due on or before Sept. 29, 2020.

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