FCC Proposes Blocking Foreign-Initiated Robocalls
At the Commission's September meeting it unanimously adopted the Targeting Gateway Providers to Combat Illegal Robocalls Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("FNPRM"). This FNPRM would require "the first U.S.–based intermediate provider in the call path of a foreign-originated call that transmits the call directly to another intermediate provider or terminating voice service provider in the United States" to implement STIR/SHAKEN and perform robocall mitigation on foreign originated calls with U.S. caller ID numbers. It would also impose a requirement to block suspicious traffic based on reasonable analytics and as well as a number of other steps designed to limit robocalls from entering the United States.
At the Commission's meeting, Commissioner Starks commented on the crux of the problem the Commission faces, noting that "[foreign-originated illegal robocalls that use U.S.-based numbers are a particularly challenging problem, in large part because such calls cannot always be traced to their foreign sources." Acting Chair Rosenworcel explained that the adoption of the proposed rules "will help [the Commission] tackle the growing number of international robocalls. Because we can't have these scam artists multiplying abroad and hiding from our regulatory reach. We're going to stop these nuisance calls before they reach our homes and businesses in the United States. And if the tools we have here are not up to task—we will need to go to Congress and ask for more."
Comments and reply comments on the proposals in the FNPRM will be due 30 and 60 days, respectively, after publication in the Federal Register.
Commission Seeks to Safeguard PSAP Phone Numbers from Robocalls
In addition to its proposal to curb illegal foreign robocalls, the Commission also unanimously adopted the Shielding 911 Call Centers from Robocalls Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("PSAP FNPRM") seeking to protect Public Safety Answering Points ("PSAPs") from unwanted and dangerous robocall attacks. As we also reported last month, the Commission's proposal would restrict access to PSAP telephone numbers to voice service providers and would require them to use that access to block autodialer calls intended for PSAPs. The PSAP FNPRM also seeks comment on whether robocalls and autodialed calls remain a problem from PSAPs, and if there are additional alternative approaches to protecting PSAPs from robocalling attacks.
Commissioner Starks, noting the life and death nature of calls to PSAPs, commented that "we cannot have PSAP phone lines tied up by robocalls" and added that "we will solicit feedback on new methods to protect PSAPs – addressing both the security concerns that arose from the Commission's earlier approach and opportunities to take advantage of new call blocking technology." Echoing Commissioner Starks's support and openness to alternative approaches, Acting Chair Rosenworcel explained that "[the Commission] believe[s] this is a promising approach, but we want to get this right. So in this rulemaking we're asking how can we improve it? Are there other solutions we should consider? And what other security threats do we need to address?"
Now that the PSAP FNPRM has been adopted, comments and reply comments on it are due 30 and 45 days, respectively, after publication in the Federal Register.
Senator Asks FCC to Do More on Spam Texts, Encourages the Commission to Proceed with Its Anti-Robocall Efforts
In a letter to Acting Chair Rosenworcel, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked the Commission to take additional steps to block unwanted and potentially fraudulent spam text messages. The Senator also expressed his support for the Commission's recent actions proposing to shorten STIR/SHAKEN implementation deadlines for certain providers.
In his letter Blumenthal writes, "I encourage the FCC to move forward on plans to require more telephone carriers to stop spoofed phone calls through implementing the STIR/SHAKEN protocol. While I appreciate that some smaller carriers may require additional help to upgrade their networks, the FCC's current timetable means that consumers may not see full relief from robocalls until June 2023. I also appreciate that the FCC recently opened a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consider revising its blanket extensions and exemptions for its important anti-robocall deadlines."
Blumenthal adds that the Commission should "take action on the recent surge of unsolicited text messages that are overtaking robocalls as a nuisance and a consumer protection threat." Noting that mobile carriers have long had the ability to stop spam texts to their customers, he observed that they have not used those tools with sufficient effort. Thus, the Senator's letter urged "the FCC to use all of its authorities, including investigations, rulemaking, and enforcement, to address unwanted text messages, send a deterrent message to marketers, and identify technical solutions." He concluded by offering legislative support, stating "I stand ready to assist the FCC in the fight against unsolicited and fraudulent phone calls and text messages and encourage you to inform me if the FCC needs additional legal authorities or resources to tackle this urgent consumer protection issue."
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