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Robocall Anger Will Force Calling Companies to Adjust Expectations, Says FCC Enforcement Bureau

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WASHINGTON, June 17, 2019 — Companies whose legally-placed robocalls are blocked under the June 6 order of the Federal Communications Commission may need to adjust their perception of consumer expectations, a top Enforcement Bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission said last week.

Indeed, the popular backlash against robocalls is forcing all facets of the telecommunications industry to adjust their business model and consider technologies that are more politically palatable, like ringless voice-mail.

Kristi Thompson, chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau’s Telecommunications Consumers Division, made her pointed suggestion – about some industry officials who engage in robocalling needing to adjust their expectations – at a June 10 event of the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Also at that event, Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Stone said the agency is moving quickly to enhance and update the reassigned numbers database. Doing so will allow legitimate telemarketers to scrub their lists and remain in compliance with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991.

Not all robocalls are illegal, said Patrick Halley, senior vice president of the industry group US Telecom. Emphasizing the intent standard, he said many robocalls are actually useful. The goal, he said, is to empower customers to be able to only receive the calls that they want.

Rebecca Thompson, the head of government affairs at Twilio, illustrated several cases of legitimate spoofing. These include protecting Uber riders’ numbers, womens’ shelters and crisis counseling lines preserving safety and privacy. She also pointed out cases of legitimate robocalls, including notifications from schools or emergency providers, that could potentially be blocked by analytics companies because they would match targeted call patterns.

Twilio carefully monitors the use of the platform and wants to work with providers to determine the difference between wanted and unwanted calls, said Twilio’s Thompson, although she warned that the standard of an “unwanted” robocall is a slippery slope.

Stone replied that the FCC is not interested in over-blocking, and that the agency has begun to create a process for those who feel they have been unfairly blocked. Moreover, similar technologies are already being used on an opt-in basis, and are working “fairly well,” he said.

He added that there are tools to show the consumer exactly what calls have been blocked, and that informed opt-out is still an option.

Some industry officials are applauding an apparent allowance for a so-called “informed opt-out” standard when it comes to blocking robocalls.

In a statement released Monday, ACA Connects – an association of smaller cable operators – issued a statement praising the opt-out approach: The June 6 “ruling gives assurance to ACA Connects members and other providers that they can do more to help their customers block malicious robocalls, while also preserving the right of any individual customer to make an informed choice to receive any and all incoming calls,” said ACA CEO Matt Polka. Those consumers who are less familiar with and slower to adopt new technologies are particularly likely to benefit from blocking tools made available on an opt-out basis, as today’s ruling contemplates.”

At another forum on the same topic hosted by US Telecom on Tuesday, Youmail CEO Alex Quilici said that the option of sending some calls straight to voicemail could help prevent unnecessary blocking, especially for numbers that are in use by big companies such as banks but also are frequently used by scammers.

Allowing ringless voicemail provides a middle ground between letting the call ring and blocking it at the network level.

AT&T Vice President Linda Vandeloop and Verizon Associate General Counsel Chris Oatway both described measures that the major voice service providers are taking to allow individuals or businesses to quickly report erroneously blocked calls.

There is still a possibility that legal calls could be blocked, said Oatway, but the industry is in the process of figuring out the best practices.

Speaking at the US Telecom event, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., discussed the TRACED Act, emphasizing bipartisan support for action against robocalls.

Markey presented a three step “recipe for success”: Authentication (requiring carriers to verify all calls), blocking (requiring carriers to block all unverified calls), and enforcement (increasing the window to pursue penalties from one year to three years). He emphasized the overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral support for these measures.

(Image from KSLTV.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

FCC

Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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FCC

FCC Votes on Proposals Ranging From Emergency Response to SIM Swap Fraud in Open Meeting

The agency held an open meeting Thursday to hammer out votes on a range of issues.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

WASHINGTON, September 30, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Thursday on several items, including expanding the E-Rate program and addressing SIM swap fraud and robocalls.

The commission voted to increase backup power to networks in case of emergencies and natural disasters and update outage reporting requirements. This follows an aggressive response from the agency during Hurricane Ida. The federal government lost $284 million of productivity during the winter storms last year.

Targeting robocalls from overseas, the FCC passed a set of rules for gateway voice service providers. Gateway providers will be asked to block calls from numbers the FCC lists, to authenticate caller ID and to submit to the FCC a certification of the practices they are using to block robocalls. This follows the June 30 deadline for large voice service providers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telecoms to work to limit robocalls and ID spoofing or face fines and penalties.

In an effort to reduce SIM swapping and port-out fraud, rules were proposed which would require carriers to adhere to a set of secure methods of authenticating the identity of a customer before moving a customer’s phone number to another carrier or device.

SIM swapping is the act of identity theft whereby a person convinces a wireless carrier to transfer a victim’s cell service into the thief’s possession. Port-out fraud is when the thief creates an account with a new carrier and convinces the victim’s carrier to port out the victim’s service to the new carrier.

The notice also proposes that customers be alerted immediately whenever a SIM change or port request is made under a customer’s identity and account. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel quoted senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, stating that “consumers are at the mercy of wireless carriers when it comes to being protected against SIM swaps.”

The FCC also updated the definition of library to include tribal libraries for use with their E-rate program, following a 2018 law from Congress. Many tribal libraries under the law were excluded from the program, which subsidizes broadband for schools and libraries, for over 20 years. Only 15 percent of tribal libraries reported having received E-Rate support.

The FCC also adopted and made transparent a series of questions that will be asked of foreign-owned companies wishing to participate in the US telecommunications market.

Questions include whether the applicants or investors have been charged with felonies, been subject to penalties for violating regulations of the US government, have undergone bankruptcy, are on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list and more.

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FCC

FCC Commissioner Simington Says Universal Fiber to the Home Can Wait

Simington also raised idea of Big Tech contributing to Universal Service Fund.

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FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington.

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that adoption issues for fiber is delaying the need to make universal fiber to the home a priority right now.

“I think we can push back on fiber to the home universally, at least in noting that there are edge cases and adoption issues there and that some degree of wireless is going to have to be part of the broadband future,” Simington said in a one-on-one conversation with the Internet Innovation Alliance.

A large part of the discourse surrounding the future of broadband expansion in the country is what kinds of technologies are most prudent to ensure connectivity now and scalability in the future. The Wireless Industry Association has pressed the fact that multiple technologies, including wireless, have a play in broadband’s future, while the Fiber Broadband Association and others have said fiber buildout is the best, most scalable technology.

The last mile, where the cable physically attaches to the home or business, was said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference this week to be a goal for broadband expansion.

But Simington said that while fiber is a “robust technology,” there’s a chunk of Americans that may not want it.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there are some users who are not particularly interested in fiber,” Simington said. “That might be people who are, for example, device-only users and they don’t want a home broadband connection — that’s about 20 percent of the national population (of broadband users), although the question of want is sort of up in the air.

“Obviously to a person who is device-only, the only use that fiber would have would be to provide hotspot. And if you’re spending your entire day out and about working, what matters to you is having adequate wireless coverage in your area,” he added.

Simington touches on Universal Service Fund

Modernizing the Universal Service Fund has been one of the hot topics for broadband this year. The fund, which extends basic telecom services to all Americans, has been called unsustainable due to its reliance on shrinking voice revenues.

Some have suggested that the fund’s reliance be wholesale replaced with general taxation from Congress, while others have said that the fund’s revenue base should be extended to include the increasing broadband revenues.

Simington prefaced his comments by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress, which would set the parameters of a new regime, but raised previous recommendations – including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr – that part of the money can come from big technology companies, like Facebook and Google.

“We might also say that there are companies that have built their model on there being universal broadband and have been the beneficiaries of the buildout without having to do much to contribute to it…that’s something that has been raised on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

He added that another approach “would simply be to say that broadband is essentially the equivalent of a telephone service back in the day and therefore we are going to put it on everyone’s broadband bill instead of on the relatively small installed base of phone line subject to the USF. That would certainly be one approach. It would smooth things out somewhat, it would presumably broaden the base very substantially.”

In any case, Simington said the USF is “absolutely vital” and that it’s failure would be “at minimum…immensely disruptive.”

Spectrum strategies and future technologies  

In his roughly hour-long chat, Simington touched on a myriad of other issues before the FCC, including the future of satellite technologies, spectrum strategies, and funding for programs to deliver telecommunications services to all Americans.

The commissioner noted that the FCC is prioritizing clearing spectrum for technologies including the next-generation 5G networks, and that the agency is looking to “squeeze every drop” of mid-band frequencies for that end. The FCC has already held a number of auctions for mid-band spectrum, including its massive C-Band auction.

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this year that the mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency over millimeter wave spectrum to close the digital divide.

Simington also said spectrum sharing will increase as technological advances are made. The FCC is fielding comments about how to handle the 12 GHz spectrum band, which is effectively pitting satellite providers who say it can’t be shared and 5G providers who say that it can.

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