In a 5-0 bipartisan vote, the Federal Communications Commission issued a blockbuster ruling on June 6, 2019 affirming automatic robocall blocking by telephone carriers without first obtaining customers’ permission. While the ruling enables carriers to block suspicious incoming calls, they must give customers the opportunity to “opt out” of this default setting. Carriers must also use “reasonable analytics,” such as those used in call-management apps, to identify robocallers. Under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also adopted by the Commission, companies that deliver voice communications over the internet are required to implement in-development anti-robocall technologies SHAKEN/STIR, which can identify and stop unwanted calls.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stated that robocalls are “badgering” consumers and default call-blocking is a cost-effective way to handle these calls, but companies such as debt-collection agencies and health care organizations that regularly use robocall technology to place legitimate calls fear those calls may be unfairly blocked along with scams. The ruling attempts to provide for this by requiring default call blocking programs to provide legitimate callers with a complaint and resolution process. The rule also provides for a “safe harbor” for companies that use authentication technology to aid in identifying legitimate callers. However, if a carrier uses this technology and cannot verify a caller using it, they may block the call. The ruling also states that carriers may offer customers the ability to block calls from those not on their contact list.
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel partially dissented from the ruling because it does not prohibit carriers from charging customers for robocall blocks. However, there is a stipulation in the ruling that if carriers do charge customers for default blocking, then the Commission can create a new provision to prohibit the charges. Commissioner Roseworcel would like the call-blocking tools be provided for free by carriers. Republican Commissioner Michael O’Reilly also partially dissented from the ruling due to concerns that the broad language of the plan could be unfairly interpreted against carriers.