In a potential victory for privacy advocates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a proposal on June 18th to “protect consumers against unwanted robocalls and spam texts.” In a series of declarations, the FCC announced that consumers have the right to prevent unwanted calls while granting telecommunications companies the legal license to use software and systems to block the intrusions. The FCC received 215,000 complaints of unwanted calls in 2014, along with dozens of petitions asking the regulator to clarify its interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Last month’s ruling was an effort at “closing loopholes and strengthening consumer protections already on the books,” according to an agency press release. Attorneys General in 44 states and the District of Columbia signed a letter last week addressed to several major telephone and text service providers, urging them to “take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the rule clarification” and “offer call-blocking technology to your consumers.”
The letter was sent to the CEOs of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and CenturyLink, urging them to take pre-emptive measures toward the intrusive calls, and preventing the state offices from spending so much time on the prosecution of violators. Every state’s Attorney General signed onto the bill except for Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Many within the telecommunications industry have feared that institutional roadblocks would hold them liable for implementing blocking techniques. Due to last month’s ruling, however, companies will no longer have to fear regulatory backlash for tougher call-blocking solutions. The letter concludes, “Every year, our offices are flooded with consumer complaints pleading for a solution to stop intrusive robocalls. Your organizations are now poised to offer your customers the help they need. We urge you to act without delay.”
USTelecom, a trade group representing landline phone providers and the wireless trade group, CTIA-The Wireless Association, have both thrown their support behind the measure. USTelecom said in a statement that the organization’s members “share the concern expressed in the letter about the need to inform consumers about steps they can take to halt calls and identify robocall perpetrators.” Although sales calls are illegal under the TCPA, innovations among robocallers and other use of ID-disguising has kept them prevalent. Many are “spoofers,” who are not actually selling a product, but are identity thieves instead. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has sponsored a bill that floating in Congress that would increase fines on spoofers selling fake products as well as those who impersonate IRS agents. Technology exists to prevent web-based calling and calling on Android phones, and the Attorneys General encouraged other providers to implement similar technology. Spokespeople for Verizon and CenturyLink stated that they have call-blocking technology already implemented; however Verizon spokesman Richard Young said the company “agrees on the need for more consumer education.” Despite the companies’ reassurances, it would appear by the tone of the letter that the state-level prosecutors do not believe the status-quo to be sufficient in light of last month’s clarification.
Bloomberg Business – Christie Smythe
Consumerist – Chris Morran
Fierce Telecom – Sean Buckley
Wall Street Journal Law Blog – Jacob Gershman