FCC Allows Use of Preemptive Blocks on Robocalls

June 10, 2019Alerts

In a decision with broad implications, the Federal Communications Commission voted on June 5 to adopt a rule that allows phone carriers to employ automatic blocks on unwanted or illegal robocalls – estimated to number in the billions each month – without requiring affirmative requests from customers.

In doing so, the FCC brushed aside the concerns of various business groups, including debt collectors, health care companies and financial institutions, that the new rule will sweep too broadly and lead to blocking of many legitimate calls. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rejected those concerns, stating that the agency’s “top consumer protection priority is aggressively pursuing the scourge of illegal robocalls.”

Addressing what is by far the FCC’s greatest source of consumer complaints, the commissioners voted unanimously to allow carriers to use “reasonable analytics” to identify and block calls from phone numbers on the Do-Not-Originate list as well as those from invalid, unallocated or unused numbers. These types of numbers are often used for “spoof” calls designed to trick recipients as to the identity of the callers and the origin of the calls. Under the new rule, phone carriers do not need to wait for a consumer request, but can proactively employ sweeping blocking technology.

The rule includes a “safe harbor” provision that insulates carriers from liability if they use call authentication technology to separate legitimate and illegitimate calls. The rule does not explicitly state whether carriers can impose a charge for the blocking service or must provide it to consumers for free – an ambiguity that drew a partial dissent from one of the commissioners.

For businesses that legitimately place a large number of calls to customers, the new rule represents an additional hurdle to ensure that their calls get through. While the new rule encourages phone carriers to develop a “simple method” to allow speedy challenges and resolution of improperly blocked numbers, it remains to be seen just what type of fix will be put in place.

For more information about this alert, please contact Gerald Arth at 215.299.2720 or [email protected].