Getty Images | Bill Oxford
Telephone companies with "bad actors" who benefit from robocalls could be blocked by more legitimate operators according to rules unanimously approved by the Federal Communications Commission yesterday.
As part of the change, the FCC may state that network operators can block calls "from upstream voice service providers with bad actors who forward illegal or unwanted calls to other providers if these upstream providers have been notified but do not take action to address these calls to stop". Carriers that impose this type of blocking are given a safe haven from liability "for the unintentional or unintentional blocking of wanted calls, which eliminates a problem that prevents some companies from performing robust Robocall blocking efforts".
This expanded level of blocking – triggered by a new law in which Congress directed the FCC to expand safe havens – could be implemented by companies that sell telephone services directly to consumers. These include the mobile operators Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, traditional fixed network companies and VoIP providers.
Carriers cannot block calls from any provider. As Chairman Ajit Pai said, the safe haven will be available in cases where the FCC has told telecommunications with "bad actors" that it is trafficking illegal traffic and "is not effectively reducing this traffic or implementing effective preventive measures" to customers cannot use their network to make illegal calls. "
Allowing network operators to block virtually all calls from a particular provider is a major policy change, the FCC said in a draft yesterday's order:
Until recently, we only authorized call barring for certain calls, not based on the provider. In April this year, the Commission's Enforcement Bureau and the FTC issued letters that clarify that in some cases provider-based blocking is appropriate. Today we make it clear that voice service providers are allowed to block calls from upstream voice service providers with "bad actors" … The safe haven therefore offers protection for a voice service provider who blocks all calls from voice service providers with bad actors.
Accused phone providers have 48 hours to "take effective mitigation measures" before other operators can block their calls. The FCC identifies these providers with bad actors using traceback technology in collaboration with the telecommunications industry. The new rules should come into force 30 days after the FCC regulation is published in the Federal Register.
Despite the safe haven, airlines must "make reasonable efforts to prevent public safety calls from being blocked," the FCC said.
FCC threats have been effective
Yesterday’s vote follows other efforts by the US government to cut robocalls closer to the source. The FCC sent letters to six gateway phone companies in April and May asking them to cancel fraud robocalls or block all calls from other phone providers. "Within 48 hours of receiving the letters, each gateway provider confirmed that it had ended robocall traffic," said the FCC in yesterday's draft order. The Department of Justice also sued two small businesses that have allegedly linked hundreds of millions of fraudulent robocalls from Indian call centers to US citizens.
The new safe haven is one of several measures that were adopted in yesterday's FCC regulation. Another new safe haven "protects telephone companies that use appropriate analytics, including caller ID authentication information, to identify and block illegal or unwanted calls." The FCC also laid the foundation for future decisions by voting to obtain a public opinion on "whether to require telephone companies to better monitor their networks against illegal calls and whether to be asked to provide consumers with free information about blocked calls to provide".