TR Daily FCC Pushes Agenda Against Unwanted Robocalls
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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

FCC Pushes Agenda Against Unwanted Robocalls

The FCC today took a trio of actions it said were designed to further its goal of protecting consumers from unwanted and scam robocalls and spoofed calls.

The Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau sent letters to large phone companies and developers of third-party call-blocking tools seeking information on their efforts to enable consumers to block unwanted calls, and it also issued a public notice in CG docket 17-59 and WC docket 17-97 seeking public input about what tools are available to help consumers block unwanted robocalls.

In addition, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued cease-and-desist letters to R Squared Telecom LLC and Phonetime, Inc., d/b/a Tellza, which are suspected of facilitating robocalls.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also announced the launch of a webpage to track the FCC’s actions to implement the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act.

"No one wants more unwanted robocalls in their life," Ms. Rosenworcel said in a press release. "I’m proud that we continue to find new ways to use all the tools at our disposal to make it clear to illegal robocallers that their days are numbered. We want them to know that we’re advocating on behalf of consumers everywhere to put an end to these calls."

The FCC said the public notice and inquiries to phone companies regarding free robocall blocking tools would provide updated information the Commission can use in its second Call Blocking Report.

Specifically, the FCC asked in the public notice for data on what call-blocking tools are available to consumers through phone service providers or other sources, whether they are available at no charge to consumers or as part of different tiers of service at different prices, and whether call-blocking tools are available on an opt-in or opt-out basis.

The Commission also asked for information about how many consumers use the tools, whether the tools block calls at the network or device level, or somewhere else in the call path, what new tools are in development, and whether the coronavirus pandemic changed or delayed consumer expectations or providers’ robocall practices.

The FCC also asked for input on several questions related to how effective call-blocking tools are, including what metrics are the most effective to judge effectiveness, what tools send intercept messages for blocked calls, and what the rate of false positives is.

The Commission also seeks comment on what call-blocking tools providers have implemented as a result of the FCC actions, including whether blocking services "incorporate STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication information into their analytics, consistent with the Commission’s safe harbor."

The FCC also asked whether service providers are blocking calls from numbers on a Do-Not-Originate list and whether voice service providers implemented the blocking of calls that "purport to be from invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers," and if service providers offer opt-in white-list blocking.

Among other questions, the Commission asked if legitimate calls from emergency services are ever blocked, whether there is a means to ensure callbacks from public safety numbers are completed, and if public service entities experience unwanted robocalls that interfere with their duties.

Comments on the public notice are due April 30.

In the nearly identical cease-and-desist letters to Tellza and R Squared, Telecommunications Consumers Division Chief Kristi Thompson said the division had determined the companies were apparently transmitting illegal robocall traffic on behalf of one or more clients.

The letters direct the companies to investigate whether such calls are being made and, if necessary, cease such traffic immediately and take additional steps to prevent their networks from delivering illegal robocalls.

If the companies do not take action to "effectively mitigate illegal traffic" within 48 hours, or if they do not inform the FCC and the Traceback Consortium by April 27 of steps they have taken to implement robocall blocking measures, downstream service providers will be authorized to block all of their traffic, the letters said.

"Failure to act within the deadlines may result in the Commission issuing a notice to all U.S.-based voice service providers that they may permanently block ALL call traffic transmitting from your network," the division said.

The new webpage includes information about the FCC’s actions to implement the TRACED Act, update call-blocking rules, and steps taken to implement new Caller ID authentication technology.

The site also addresses the FCC’s work on stopping "one-ring" scams, protecting hospitals against illegal robocalls, and establishing a reassigned numbers database. —Jeff Williams

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