Public Comment Invited as FCC Permits Limited Call Blocking by Carriers

Unwanted calls are the top consumer complaint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and one of the preeminent concerns of consumers. The FCC receives over 200,000 complaints regarding illegal calling annually and some analysts estimate that U.S. consumers received over 2.4 billion robocalls per month in 2016 alone.

The increasing availability and intuitiveness of phone and telemarketing technologies have made it easier for scammers to conduct calls in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).  While solutions like caller ID traditionally have provided some relief to consumers, scammers are increasingly employing “spoofing” technology to alter their phone numbers and hide their identities.  In response, the FCC issued new rules on November 16, 2017 to allow voice service providers (VSPs) to block calls that appear to be from numbers from which a call should never originate.

The FCC’s new rules allow phone companies to proactively place a phone number, at the request of the subscriber to the number, on a “do not originate list” to prevent calls that are likely to be fraudulent.  VSPs may also block calls appearing to originate from invalid, unallocated, and unassigned numbers. The FCC and industry-participants recognize that these measures may reduce, but certainly will not eliminate, illegal calls.  Industry-participants had been concerned that the FCC may authorize VSPs to block calls they determine to be “presumptively illegal” but the FCC declined to go that far in this rulemaking.

While the FCC’s new rules stop short of allowing VSPs to block presumptively illegal calls, the concern remains that the FCC may permit such blocking in the future without sufficient attention to the consequences of unintended lawful call blocking. In response to these concerns, the FCC issued a further notice of proposed rulemaking seeking information on methods to unblock erroneously blocked numbers and measure the effectiveness of blocking techniques. The FCC will accept comments through January 23, 2018, and interested parties can provide comments here.