FCC Approves Call Blocking Measure, But Includes Mechanism For Complaints When Legit Calls are Blocked

In a move that should come as a surprise to nobody, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved a Declaratory Order that gives carriers and consumers more power to automatically block incoming calls, which could reduce the number of unwanted robocalls while also possibly intertwining legitimate calls in that net.

In response to the possibility that legitimate calls are unnecessarily blocked, the FCC did include a mechanism for filing complaints when legitimate calls are accidentally blocked.

Under the Declaratory Order, carriers will be able to automatically block calls their systems deem to be robocalls, without notifying customers. They will have to give customers the opportunity to opt-out of the service, should they so choose. The carriers will also be able to offer customers tools to block calls from anyone not in their phones’ contact lists or not on an approved “white list.”

Carriers will also be required to adopt the SHAKEN/STIR call authentication framework by the end of 2019 if they have not already done so under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that was approved at yesterday’s meeting.

ACA International has expressed concerns that legitimate calls, such as those from debt collectors, may be blocked or kept from consumers under these new rules.

“While ACA International recognizes that illegal robocalls are a serious problem and supports efforts to combat them, we still fear that today’s order will cause consumers to miss important business and informational calls,” said ACA International CEO Mark Neeb. “We are looking forward to learning more about the discussed mechanisms added to the order for legitimate callers to seek redress when calls are erroneously blocked. The workability of such provisions could be the matter of life and death for some consumers, and certainly impacts their ability to be informed about health and safety issues, and delinquencies that impact their future ability to access credit and goods and services.”

At least one of the carriers applauded the FCC’s decisions.

“With the help of these new FCC rules, we’ll be able to provide our customers the benefits of spam alerts and blocking more broadly and conveniently,” said Ronan Dunne, Executive Vice President & Group CEO, Verizon Consumer Group, in a statement.

Three of the five FCC commissioners approved the Declaratory Ruling without any objection. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel approved the majority of the ruling and dissented on smaller components of it. O’Rielly’s concerns were with language regarding the collection of information from voice service providers in order to create reports, and Rosenworcel’s dissent was over costs or fees that would be passed on to consumers related to blocking robocalls.

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