Yesterday, on June 6, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affirmed a declaratory ruling that allows voice service providers to establish call blocking as a default setting for their customers. This is the FCC’s latest step in battling against illegal robocalls.
While the FCC has been working on solutions to illegal robocalls for a long time, it announced the now-enacted default call blocking declaratory ruling less than a month ago on May 15. There was no formal opportunity to comment, but many industries and businesses publicly voiced their concerns over a rushed solution such as this.
As stated above, voice service providers may now implement default settings for blocking unwanted calls “based on reasonable call analytics.” Voice service providers must disclose such default settings to consumers and allow them an opportunity to opt-out.
The declaratory ruling goes even further by allowing voice service providers to provide an opt-in service where their customers can block calls from any number that is not on the customer's contact list or on some other white list.
At the June open commission meeting, where the FCC affirmed the declaratory ruling, the focus was primarily on the impact of robocalls on consumers. Commissioner O’Rielly articulated concerns from the business perspective, specifically that the widely-cast net of the declaratory ruling will sweep far more than just illegal robocalls due to imperfect analytics. O’Rielly states:
Like my fellow Commissioners, I share the desire to eliminate the menace of illegal robocalls and believe that this item is very well-intended, though I nonetheless wonder if it may lead to certain problematic consequences. Completely legitimate organizations and businesses regularly engage in socalled “robocalling” to provide consumers with critical and time-sensitive information, such as fraud alerts, flight schedule changes, school closures, delivery window delays, prescription notices, appointment reminders, public safety alerts, and—yes—anti-delinquency notices. Efforts to attack illegal and fraudulent calls should not restrict or prevent these beneficial robocalls.
O’Rielly’s statement continues:
As any e-mail user knows, spam filters, which operate through analytics, are by no means perfect. Almost everyone has had the experience of missing important messages because of an oversensitive filter. For a service that is generally free and unregulated, I can accept placing the burden on consumers to go into their spam folders periodically to look for erroneously-labeled emails. That same circumstance doesn’t exist for voice calls, which have been hyper-regulated for decades and do not feature a means to determine what has been missed. To the extent that providers implement this new default regime, I worry that consumers will only realize that important voice calls have been blocked after it’s too late.
I sought to rectify this potential harm by requesting that the item at a minimum require carriers to implement a redress process for erroneously blocked calls. After all, even the CEO of First Orion, one of the largest analytics companies and likely beneficiaries of this item, recently sat in my office and stressed the need for mechanisms that respond to blocking complaints effectively and expeditiously—in hours, not days, in his words.
If you're interested in a deeper dive into this issue, this article by Numeracle's CEO Rebekah Johnson discusses the intricacies and potential unintended consequences of the FCC's decision.