Yesterday the Consumer Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) met to discuss, among other things, "Unwanted Call Blocking."

First, a little background

In March of this year the Robocalls Working Group developed a set of recommendations that were made available in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI). The goal of the rulemaking activity was to facilitate voice service providers’ blocking of illegal robocalls.

You can download the complete text of the NPRM and NOI here.

From the NPRM:

We believe that it is in the best interest of achieving the goal of eliminating illegal robocalls to collaborate with industry – government can remove regulatory roadblocks and ensure that industry has the flexibility to use robust tools to address illegal traffic. It is also important for the Commission to protect the reliability of the nation’s communications network and to protect consumers from provider-initiated blocking that harms, rather than helps, consumers. The Commission therefore must balance competing policy considerations – some favoring blocking and others disfavoring blocking – to arrive at an effective solution that maximizes consumer protection and network reliability.

The Commission proposed to allow providers to block calls when the subscriber to a particular number requests that calls originating from that number be blocked. The proposal also contemplates blocking of three additional categories:

  1. calls from invalid numbers
  2. calls from valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider
  3. calls from valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber

The NPRM requested input (comment period closed earlier this year) on specifics of the blocking activities above.

The NOI sought to gather input on development of objective criteria to help differentiate an illegal robocall from a legitimate one. In an accompanying statement, Chairmain Ajit Pai said this:

We seek input on other objective criteria to identify illegal robocalls – criteria that could help us distinguish, for example, between a woman at a domestic violence shelter legitimately using Caller ID spoofing to check on her kids at home and a foreign huckster pretending to call from the Internal Revenue Service. That’s because we know the problem of illegal robocalls is complicated and the solutions are many – and today’s proposals are only the Commission’s first step toward defeating this scourge.

A section of the NOI was dedicated to contemplating protections for legitimate callers. For instance, whether a “white list” ought to be created and how it might work, as well as a mechanism(s) for legitimate callers to get un-blocked.

Now, to the Consumer Advisory Committee and yesterday’s meeting

Similar to the Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) at the CFPB, the FCC has a Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC), which meets periodically to provide input to the Commissioners. In May, the group met and adopted these 11 formal recommendations related to unwanted calls. Five of the recommendations relate to education; two relate to enforcement; and the remaining four relate to easier ways for consumers to file complaints.

You can see the agenda for the September 18, 2017 meeting here.

The session included brief updates about the implementation of the “May Robocall Recommendations,” and the July 2017 Call Authentication Trust Anchor NOI (a relatively technical initiative to figure out how to “authenticate” callers automatically, before routing to their destination). None of the panelists that provided updates, nor any of the CAC members, represented industries affected by the blocking activities.

D’wana Terry, Acting Deputy Bureau Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) at the FCC gave the update on the Robocall Recommendations. He began by saying this is a problem that will not be solved overnight. He mentioned:

  • One strategy is to figure out how to stop caller I.D. spoofing.
  • The Industry Strikeforce created in 2016 has made a lot of good recommendations and they are being implemented.
  • It would be great if industry engaged more deeply in an effort to come up with a call authentication framework.
  • They are also looking at addressing the problems associated with reassigned numbers.
  • Tough enforcement is very important when it comes to unlawful robocalls.

The following recommendations were made by the committee yesterday:

  • For those service providers that have implemented any of the recommenations in the NPRM, they should inform consumers of those implementations.
  • The FCC should encourage stakeholders from consumer and industry sectors to collaborate to address unintended consequences.
  • The FCC should encourage voice providers to offer consumers other, optional, categories that can be blocked.
  • The FCC should study the effectiveness of these methods after two years in place.

insideARM Perspective

It’s interesting to me that while this NPRM/NOI seems to contemplate some of the right questions and the wheels of the rulemaking process are turning, blocking by voice carriers has already begun -- absent any of the contemplated protections for legitimate callers. 

As we wrote previously, this avalanche is already gathering. A coalition is forming to address it, but momentum does not seem to be in their favor.


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