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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.)

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

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FCC

FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection

The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.

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Photo of people working on computers, cropped, in 2011 by Victor Grigas

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.

The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.

The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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FCC

FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says

‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via fcc.gov

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.

The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.

The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform[] existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.

“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.

“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.

The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.

In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.

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