Yesterday, a bipartisan coalition of 35 state attorneys general submitted a reply comment in response to a public notice issued by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau requesting comments on how the FCC can empower telephone providers to block illegal robocalls. The FCC last November released the 2017 Call Blocking Order and adopted a set of robocall rules that allowed telephone providers to proactively block calls from invalid and unassigned numbers – but the attorneys general state in their reply comment, that this hasn’t been enough to cure the problem. “By the end of this year, the industry expects a 33% increase…” they state.
The attorneys general request that the FCC create a new rule that would specifically target neighborhood spoofing. The rule could help reduce the spoofed robocalls from numbers with the same area code as the consumer, or even calls from the consumer’s own number.
They inform the FCC that law enforcement alone will not solve the robocall problem in the country and that “despite the 2017 Call Blocking Order, which increased providers’ ability to illegally spoofed calls, the robocall problem appears to be getting worse.” The attorneys tell the FCC they would like to construct on the 2017 Call Blocking Order, permitting carriers to “use new technology to detect and block illegal spoofed calls.” ‘
Further, they state that the government and the telephone industry must work together to combat the pervasive robocall problem, given the ability of the robocallers to hide their identities and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer and internet connection. They request for increasing the collaboration among telephone providers and the government in an effort “to identify and implement new methods to combat the proliferation of these illegal acts. Also, we encourage the FCC to implement additional reforms, as necessary, to respond to technological advances that make illegal robocalls and illegal spoofing such a difficult problem to solve.”
“Only be working together, and utilizing every tool at our disposal, can we hope to eradicate this noxious intrusion on consumers’ lives”, they state.
As Eric has opined before, Congress needs to focus on the scammers and the 35 attorneys general agree - we need to work together to implement new solutions to combat these illegal actors. While the government may not be able to simply just ban all robocalls, hopefully this formal comment urges the FCC to further work with telephone providers to advance technology to help target unlawful robocalls.
In addition to the state attorneys' general comment discussed above, several other entities submitted comments and replies to the FCC's public notice.
A group of consumer advocates, including Consumer Union, NCLC, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, NACA, and Public Citizen, submitted both a comment and reply. Their main push was for the FCC to not only focus its efforts on illegal robocalls, but to also focus on unwanted calls received by consumers. The group specificallys calls out calls from debt collectors as unwanted. Because of this, the group suggests an inclusive definition of "robocall."
The consumer advocates also recommend against creating a whitelist of numbers or sending call intercept messages. The group's argument is that both of these efforts would provide a lot of information to bad actors, thus increasing the likelihood of spoofing.
The group's reply discusses call labeling as it relates to debt collection and the FDCPA's requirements.
Debt collectors have raised concerns that some call-flagging services that prominently label debt collection calls may create privacy concerns for the called parties. However, we do not agree that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) —which does not allow debt collectors to notify third parties that they are contacting the consumer—would make a collector liable for the consequences of a label someone else applied to their caller ID. However, the labeling can violate the privacy of the person called. Therefore, we urge the FCC to work with both the CFPB and call-labeling companies to find ways to accurately indicate to the consumer the identity of the caller without causing this breach of privacy to the consumer.
CTIA, a group that represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, advocated for regulatory flexibility that would allow carriers to apply a holistic approach to stopping illegal robocalls. CTIA argues that inflexible rules and regulations would impact the carrier's ability to continue finding for solutions in an ever-changing environment because of hurdles such as needing to divert resources to ensure compliance. CTIA also recommends a safe habor for carriers trying to solve for the illegal robocall issue. According to CTIA, carriers -- unlike third party applications -- have a very low rate of false positives.
Caller ID v. Call Labeling
Several comments from businesses recommended using caller ID instead of or, at the very least, in conjunction with call labeling. Consumers are unlikely to answer calls that contain spam or fraud anywhere in the label. Using caller ID would give the consumer more information about who is calling, thus enabling the consumer to make a better informed decision about whether or not to make the call. Silent in the comments, however, is a discussion about third party disclosure issues as they relate to caller ID that debt collectors face under the FDCPA.
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