MBA, Trade Groups Offer FCC Recommendations on ‘Robocalls’ Policy

The Mortgage Bankers Association and nearly a dozen disparate trade associations offered the Federal Communications Commission a series of recommendations on curbing unlawful “robocalls” while preserving the ability of businesses to legitimately conduct vital business and customer services by phone.

The July 24 letter to FCC Secretary Marlene Dortch came in response to and FCC third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls, issued in June. The FCC is considering implementation of a framework for authenticating calls–known as the SHAKEN/STIR framework–by proposing a safe harbor from liability under the call completion rules for Voice Service Providers that choose to block calls, or a subset of calls, that are not authenticated under that framework. The Commission also proposes to mandate adoption of SHAKEN/STIR if major Voice Service Providers do not do so voluntarily by December and to create a mechanism to provide information to consumers about the effectiveness of Providers’ “robocall solutions.”

In the letter, MBA and the trade groups–representing a broad range of financial services, health care, retail and utilities–said they support the Commission’s goal to eliminate illegal automated calls and agree that implementation of the SHAKEN/STIR framework is an important step toward achieving that goal. The letter noted under this framework, a call is “signed,” or attested, by the Voice Service Provider that originates the call, and the call is validated by a validation service at the terminating end of the call. The framework also establishes a mechanism to transmit with the signed call information that the originating Voice Service Provider has about the entity that placed the call.

The letter encourages the FCC to design the SHAKEN/STIRT framework to ensure that important, and often time-sensitive, calls that Association members and other organizations place to their customers are not blocked. These calls include alerts from a child’s school (e.g., regarding unplanned closures or emergencies), updates about electric utility outages, public safety notifications, healthcare and prescription reminders, data breach and fraud alerts, service disruption notifications, urgent product safety recall notifications, and loan servicing and collections-related calls.

“It is critical that these calls be completed without delay,” the letter said. “To minimize the blocking of these calls, we recommend that the Commission direct Voice Service Providers not to block unsigned calls until the SHAKEN/STIR framework has been fully implemented. Moreover, once the framework has been fully implemented, the Commission should permit Providers to block only calls that have not been properly authenticated under the framework or those that have been authenticated, but where the Provider has concluded with a high degree of certainty that the call was placed illegally. In addition, for a Voice Service Provider to be protected by the safe harbor, the Commission should require Providers that block calls to notify the calling party and to remove erroneous blocks within 24 hours of learning of the block.”

The Commission has also proposed a requirement for Voice Service Providers that block calls to maintain a “Critical Calls List” of numbers that the Provider may not block. However, the MBA/trade group letter urged the Commission to expand the categories of calls that should be included on a Critical Calls List.

“In addition to emergency service numbers, the list should include numbers from which the following categories of calls are initiated: fraud alerts, data breach notifications, remediation messages, electric utility outage notifications, product safety recall notices, healthcare reminders and prescription notices and mortgage servicing calls required by federal or state law,” the letter said. It also recommended the Commission, in assessing the effectiveness of Voice Service Providers’ solutions to the problem of illegal automated calls, measure and report annually on the number of calls that Providers have blocked erroneously, including (but not limited to) the number of calls erroneously blocked under the SHAKEN/STIR framework.

Additionally, the letter offered the following recommendations:

Voice service providers should not be permitted to block unsigned calls until the SHAKEN/STIR Caller ID Authentication Framework has been fully implemented. The letter said “full implementation” should be considered met only when all Voice Service Providers can authenticate calls.

When the SHAKEN/STIR Framework is fully implemented, the Commission should only permit blocking of calls that are not authenticated or are place illegally. “It is critical that Voice Service Providers apply objective, defined criteria to determine whether to block an authenticated call. Providers should not be permitted to block an authenticated call that, in the Provider’s subjective view, may be ‘unwanted,'” the letter said. Additionally, the letter urged the Commission also should discourage Voice Service Providers from labeling calls as “debt collector.”

The Commission should require Voice Service Providers to notify callers and consumers of blocked calls and remove erroneous blocks expeditiously to receive safe harbor protection. “[This] will mitigate the harm caused to our members by an erroneous block–and the harm caused to our members’ customers who would miss important and often time-sensitive informational calls if the block were not removed,” the letter said.

The Commission should expand the ‘Critical Calls List.’ “The creation of a list of numbers from which outbound calls may not be blocked would protect important, time-critical, non-telemarketing communications between businesses and their customers,” the letter said.

Specifically to MBA, the letter noted following the 2008 financial crisis, federal and state regulators have required mortgage servicers to place outbound telephone calls to borrowers that fall behind on their mortgage payments to advise the borrower about options to avoid foreclosure and the potential loss of their home. “Failure to place such calls can result in significant liability for the mortgage servicer,” the letter said. “These requirements were borne out of research that was conducted following the financial crisis, which strongly validates that early outreach to a distressed borrower can provide the borrower with greater opportunity to obtain a loan modification, interest rate reduction, or forbearance on interest and fees. Early outreach also can help the borrower limit avoidable late fees, negative credit reports, and prolonged delinquencies from which the borrower may have difficulty recovering. These calls are informational in nature and are usually placed by live customer service agents.”

The Commission should measure the number of erroneously blocked calls. “Data on the number of erroneously blocked calls will assist the Commission in determining whether the SHAKEN/STIR framework accurately distinguishes between calls that are legitimate and those that are not,” the letter said.

Joining MBA in the letter: the American Bankers Association; the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management; the American Financial Services Association; the Consumer Bankers Association; Credit Union National Association; the Edison Electric Institute; the Independent Community Bankers of America; the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions; and the National Retail Federation.