Pai To State AGs: Unwanted Robocalls Require Comprehensive Response

In addressing the National Association of Attorneys General (AG) on Monday in Washington, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai first warned attendees to turn off their cellphones for fear of receiving a robocall while he spoke. Then the Chairman sounded a further clarion call for collaborative efforts to combat illegal robocalls, noting that “[s]cammers are…often ahead of the curve technically,” making the effort to thwart them “a complex challenge that will require a comprehensive response.”

Reminding the AGs that “combatting unwanted robocalls” is the FCC’s “top consumer protection priority,” the FCC Chair catalogued the various Commission actions taken consistent with that objective: (a) “authorized carriers to block robocalls from certain spoofed numbers,”(b) commenced “creation of a reassigned numbers database,” (c) demanded that phone carriers “establish a robust call-authentication framework,” (d) “taken aggressive enforcement action,” and (e) working with Congress “to pass much- needed bipartisan, anti-robocall legislation, like the TRACED Act….” (Now at 85 sponsors and counting in the Senate.)

Lastly, he outlined his proposal “to allow phone companies to establish call-blocking services as a default setting for consumers.” No need for a consumer to sign up. Companies adopting this approach would use “analytics to determine which calls to block….” However, the companies would have to give consumers an opt-out option if they did not want these services. Finally, carriers would be allowed to offer consumers “the option of using their own contact list as a ‘white list’” and block all calls that come from folks not on that list.

Before concluding, the Chairman did add that the “proposals make very clear that emergency and other vital calls cannot be blocked…” Exactly what will be on that Critical Calls List would be debated in the Third Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking component of the proposals. For starters, such lists “would include at least the outbound numbers of 911 call centers (i.e., PSAPs) and government emergency outbound numbers…” whose numbers are authenticated.

But what about “other calls…important to consumers?”, such as “calls from schools, doctors, local governments,… alarm companies, …fraud and weather alerts,…calls from recall centers, hospitals, and flight alerts.” The proposal asks, “[s]hould we expand the scope of the Critical Calls List to include any or all of these categories (or any others)” and should the List’s protections be limited “to only those calls from which the Caller ID is authenticated?”

Assuming the Commission adopts the proposal on June 6, there is your invitation to weigh in on what are calls that “consumers value” that should be subject to “protections for critical calls.” Do not miss the chance.

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