FCC Votes to Allow Voice Service Providers to Block Robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission yesterday approved a Declaratory Ruling affirming voice service providers may, as a default, block unwanted calls known as “robocalls.”

This vote allows providers block robocalls before those calls even reach the customers’ phones, based on reasonable call analytics, as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking.

The vote came over the objection of the Mortgage Bankers Association and other industry trade groups, which argued ahead of the vote that the Declaratory Ruling as drafted would result in erroneous blocking of lawful calls, including urgent calls affecting consumer health, safety and financial well-being.

The FCC noted unwanted calls–including illegal and spoofed robocalls–are its top consumer complaint and top consumer protection priority. These include complaints from consumers whose numbers are being spoofed or whose calls are being mistakenly blocked or labeled as a possible scam call by a robocall blocking app or service.

The ruling also clarifies that providers may offer their customers the choice to opt-in to tools that block calls from any number that does not appear on a customer’s contact list or other “white lists.” This option would allow consumers to decide directly whose calls they are willing to receive. Consumer white lists could be based on the customer’s own contact list, updated automatically as consumers add and remove contacts from their smartphones.

The Commission also adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes requiring voice service providers to implement the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication framework, if major voice service providers fail to do so by the end of this year. It also seeks comment on whether the Commission should create a safe harbor for providers that block calls that are maliciously spoofed so that caller ID cannot be authenticated and that block calls that are “unsigned.”

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting, MBA and other industry trade groups urged the FCC to avoid an overreach that would ensnare millions of legitimate business calls. The letter urged the FCC to seek public comment before issuing the Declaratory Ruling.

“Public safety alerts, fraud alerts, data security breach notifications, product recall notices, healthcare and prescription reminders and power outage updates all could be inadvertently blocked under the draft Declaratory Order, among other time-sensitive calls,” the letter said.