Last Thursday the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) approved new rules to assist in blocking unwanted and illegal robocalls.

As insideARM reported last week, Thursday's Commission meeting included a review of the recommendations that had been submitted in September by the FCC's Consumer Advisory Committee.

The new rules would allow voice service providers to block calls:

  1. Purporting to be from a phone number placed on a “do not originate” list by the number’s subscriber
  2. Purporting to be from invalid numbers, like those with area codes that don’t exist
  3. From numbers that have not been assigned to a provider
  4. From numbers allocated to a provider but not currently in use

To minimize blocking of lawful calls, the Report and Order encourages voice service providers that elect to block calls to establish a simple way to identify and fix blocking errors.  The rules also prohibit providers from blocking 911 emergency calls.

In a statement accompanying the release, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said,

It is important to stress that today’s action is deregulatory in nature. We aren’t piling more rules upon industry. Instead, we’re providing relief from FCC rules that are having the perverse effect of facilitating unlawful and unwanted robocalls. I thank my colleagues for their thoughtful comments to this item and for joining me in this bipartisan endeavor. Make no mistake—this isn’t the end of our efforts. We’ll need to do more, and we will. But we’re building a strong foundation for fighting illegal robocalls, both by updating our rules and taking enforcement action.

Also accompanying the release was a statement by Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who agreed in part and dissented in part, with the Order. Expressing her dissention, she said,

But let’s be honest: This is tepid stuff. We need to bring the heat. My blood boils when robocalls come in night after night after night and these strange voices and their scams hold up my line and invade my home. That’s why the FCC needs to do more—a lot more—than the small-bore stuff we do today. Moreover, I think even what we do here has a real flaw. While the agency offers carriers the ability to limit calls from what are likely to be fraudulent actors, it fails to prevent them from charging consumers for this service. So this is the kicker: the FCC takes action to ostensibly reduce robocalls but then makes sure you can pay for the privilege. If you ask me, that’s ridiculous. Come on. It’s an insult to consumers who are fed up with these nuisance calls. So on this aspect of today’s decision I choose to dissent.

You can download the FCC's full Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here.

A comment period on this Report and Order ends January 23, 2018.

insideARM Perspective

Just as the industry applauds efforts of regulators to enforce the law and shut down crooks and scammers who pose as debt collectors, legitimate industry groups also applaud efforts to shut down these unwanted calls we all receive, such as those from "Rachel from Card Services." After all, these incessant scam calls are what is really driving the problem. They have made us afraid to pick up the phone, and they have made it extremely difficult to know who we can trust.

The ARM industry continues to engage with carriers and application developers to jump onto this moving train, and address the nuances associated with blocking and/or labeling calls from debt collectors.

Last Friday the Innovation Council, a part of the Consumer Relations Consortium, held its final meeting of the year. In conjunction with the primary topic of 'competing on data analytics,' the group engaged in an in-depth discussion of the fast-moving robocall blocking and labeling activities. 

Rebekah Johnson, CEO of Gloria Mac, provided an in-depth overview of the state of the ongoing initiatives by regulators, carriers, application developers, and industry. Executives from First Orion (which owns the call blocking app PrivacyStar, and also provides call analytics for T-Mobile) and Hiya (which has its own app, and provides call analytics for AT&T and Samsung) then shared their firms' labeling philosophies and answered a lengthy stream of questions. 

There is a willingness to work with legitimate businesses to ensure their calls are not inappropriately blocked or labeled. However it is also clear that 3rd party disclosure laws pose a real challenge to this new trend. When it comes to call labeling, all of the application developers I have heard from are passionate about and committed to the concept of accurate labeling and giving consumers as much information as possible about the source and purpose of a call.

Another challenge for the collection industry is that there are quite a few of these developers - some power the carriers' solutions; many more create apps available for download by consumers in their relevant app store...most are largely focused on mobile calls because of the opportunity posed by screen size to provide rich information. As of yet, there is no common set of basic labels or definitions (i.e. what exactly constitutes "scam likely"), and as of yet, there is no central point for legitimate businesses to provide information about their phone numbers. Although there are telecom/application developer working groups beginning to engage on these issues.

Should the CFPB release a proposed debt collection rule, widely anticipated to include a cap on the number of contacts that can be attempted, the industry will need to adapt and find ways to make those fewer contacts more effective.

If this 3rd party disclosure challenge could be solved -- not to mention a resolution to ACA International's challenge to the FCC's July 2015 Declaratory Ruling and Order regarding the definition of an autodialer -- call labeling could actually be an interesting opportunity for collectors to encourage consumers to pick up the phone and resolve their accounts.

 


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