On June 6, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a declaratory ruling providing voice service providers with the authority to automatically enroll consumers for call blocking programs that identify and block unwanted telephone calls. This ruling is effective immediately.
The ruling comes at a time when unwanted call volume is a top priority of the FCC. The FCC had previously stated that it is not a violation of providers’ call completion obligations to offer call-blocking programs. However, due to the “opt-in” nature of these services, and the low amount of consumers who affirmatively opt-in, the FCC believes voice service providers have been deterred from developing and investing in call-blocking programs.
Through the ruling, the FCC permits service providers to offer programs that block calls by default through “reasonable analytics designed to identify unwanted calls.” Consumers must be provided the option to opt-out. The FCC believes the opt-out nature of the program will decrease the cost of convincing consumers to opt-in, and will increase the development of call-blocking programs. However, for legitimate callers with blocked calls, the ruling offers little recourse, stating only that service providers should develop procedures to hear such concerns and callers could seek review of a call blocking program by filing a petition with the FCC.
The ruling also permits voice service providers to offer “white-list programs.” These programs block all calls not listed on the consumer’s contact list. Unlike call-blocking programs, the white-list programs require informed, opt-in consent.
Along with the declaratory ruling, the FCC also seeks comment on establishing safe harbors for call-blocking programs. The FCC proposes a safe harbor for programs that fail Caller ID authentication under the “SHAKEN/STIR” framework. SHAKEN/STIR are acronyms for the Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) and Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) standards. SHAKEN/STIR is a Caller ID authentication framework that decreases unlawful spoofing by “confirming a call actually comes from the number indicated on the Caller ID.” The telephone service provider assigns each phone number a digital certificate to verify that the call is from the person making it, or to verify that “the call entered the US network through a particular voice service provider or gateway.” Once a provider has attested to the authenticity of a phone number, it adds an identity header which is then “transmitted with the call to the terminating provider, which authenticates the call using the header and the originating provider’s public key to ensure nothing has changed” before reaching the consumer.
The FCC also proposes requiring service providers to implement the SHAKEN/STIR framework if the major voice service providers do not voluntary do so by the end of 2019. Additionally, the FCC proposes adopting protections to ensure critical calls, such as emergency calls, are not blocked.
This ruling is significant as it may potentially impact legitimate calls, such as calls from debt collectors. Callers should take the time to verify their Caller ID is in compliance with the SHAKEN/STIR framework to avoid having calls blocked.