Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai proposed a new avenue to combat illegal robocalls: a declaratory ruling allowing phone companies to establish a default setting to block unwanted calls. In addition to default blocking, the proposition would allow customers to opt in to more aggressive call blocking tools, such as the ability to block calls from numbers not on the customer’s contact list. The FCC’s announcement also proposes a safe harbor for phone providers that implement a “network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework once it is implemented.” The FCC’s fact sheet contains more detail about each of these propositions.
Chairman Pai states:
Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them … And, if this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default—for free—to their current and future customers. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this latest attack on unwanted robocalls and spoofing.
According to the FCC’s press release on the issue, uncertainty about whether call blocking tools are legal under the FCC’s rules caused many voice providers to hold off on development. The proposed declaratory ruling seeks to remedy this.
The FCC will be seeking comments on its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the safe harbor provisions regarding SHAKEN/STIR.
These issues will be heard at the FCC’s June meeting, which will be held on June 6 at 10:30AM EDT. A live webcast will be available on the FCC’s website.
For industries that rely on telephone communications with their customers, the FCC’s proposed declaratory ruling could have a big impact. While nobody is denying that illegal robocalls are an issue, default blocking as a solution—especially when the procedures are not yet refined or accurate for figuring out which calls are from legitimate businesses versus from illegal robocallers—seems premature and could have broader unintended consequences. One way to make sure the FCC views the full picture is for stakeholders to provide comments to the Commission prior to its June meeting.