On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will consider a proposal the chairman calls bold action to help consumers block unwanted robocalls but is being questioned by 10 different industry associations, including the American Financial Services Association.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai has circulated a declaratory ruling that, if adopted, would allow phone companies to block unwanted calls to their customers by default. In addition, companies could allow consumers to block calls not on their own contact list. The accompanying draft and further notice of proposed rulemaking would propose a safe harbor for providers that implement network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework once it is implemented.
“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” Pai said in a news release.
“And, if this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default — for free — to their current and future customers. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this latest attack on unwanted robocalls and spoofing.”
Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, AFSA along with other associations delivered a letter to the FCC questioning the regulator’s action. The other association’s signing the letter included:
— American Bankers Association
— ACA International
— American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management
— Consumer Bankers Association
— Credit Union National Association
— Independent Community Bankers of America
— Mortgage Bankers Association
— National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions
— National Retail Federation
“We the undersigned represent health care provider, pharmacies, grocers, retailers, banks, credit unions and other financial services providers. We fully support the commission’s goal to eliminate illegal automated calls. However, we are deeply concerned that the draft Declaratory Ruling released on May 16, 2019, if adopted as drafted, would result in the erroneous blocking of lawful calls — including urgent calls affecting consumer health, safety and financial well-being,” the groups said.
The associations stated 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.
“Therefore, we urge the Commission to seek public comment on the draft Declaratory Ruling to avoid such unintended consequences,” they said.
The groups made another point, noting actions federal lawmakers took about this matter nearly 30 years ago.
“The blocking of such beneficial calls would harm consumers and be contrary to the public interest,” the groups said. “It also would frustrate the purpose of requirements from other federal agencies and would be inconsistent with Congress’ longstanding intent that the commission facilitate efforts to block only illegal calls and not lawful calls from legitimate business.
The groups added, “When Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991, Congress stated that it did not intend for the law to ‘be a barrier to the normal, expected or desired communications between businesses and their customers.’”
Meanwhile, Pai said many voice providers have held off developing and deploying call blocking tools by default because of uncertainty about whether these tools are legal under the FCC’s rules. The regulator continued that allowing default call blocking by voice providers could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of such tools.
“This blocking could be based on analytics and consumer ‘white lists,’” the FCC said. “Similar analytics are currently used by third-party developers in call blocking apps. Consumer ‘white lists’ could be based on the customer’s own contact list, updated automatically as consumers add and remove contacts from their smartphones.
Pai also proposed seeking public comment on how caller ID authentication standards, known as SHAKEN/STIR, can inform call blocking. He has demanded that carriers adopt these standards to combat malicious spoofing.
The FCC contends this system of signing calls as legitimate as they pass through the phone networks may well be useful for call blocking tools. With the expectation that such standards will be available later this year, Pai is proposing in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to create a safe harbor for calls that are blocked because they are not authenticated under the SHAKEN/STIR framework.