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FCC Narrows Small Provider Group for Accelerated Robocall Compliance Timeline

Providers that are not facilities-based will need to meet their robocall obligations by June 2022.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will provide facilities-based voice service providers a full two-year extension for complying with robocall regulations, while moving up the deadline for certain small operators to comply.

The agency originally ruled earlier this year that all small voice service providers that have 100,000 or fewer subscribers must comply by June 2022 with the STIR/SHAKEN regulations, a regime that requires operators to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number and give consumers certainty that the number matches that of the supposed caller. The June 2022 date was revised earlier this year from a June 2023 timeline set earlier. The regime has been in place for large carriers since June of this year.

But after reviewing further evidence, the agency on Friday argued that a smaller “subset” of affected carriers that don’t have networks “are originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls.”

As a result, the FCC requires those non-facilities-based providers to continue to work toward the June 2022 deadline to comply with the regime, which operators have said is a highly technical and expensive endeavor. By narrowing the group, the FCC effectively allowed facilities-based operators to have the full compliance extension, until June 2023.

Friday’s decision follows submissions to the agency by facilities-based carriers who argued they should be granted a full extension to June 2023 precisely because the preponderance of illegal spam calls doesn’t originate from them.

The Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA, and USTelecom argued that facilities-based providers shouldn’t be penalized for calls that largely don’t run their networks.

The NTCA said in an August submission that “care must be taken to correctly identify this group of small providers in a surgical and precise manner that does not sweep in innocent actors and compel them to adopt this standard on a timeframe they had neither anticipated nor budgeted for.”

They also argued that the burden of proof is on the non-facilities-based carriers to who why they need additional time.

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Robocall

Public Knowledge Urges VoIP to Be Regulated Under Title II to Stop Robocalls

Title II would require VoIP services to be subject to stronger regulations already in place for telecommunication providers.

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Photo of Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2022 – Public Knowledge is asking the Federal Communications Commission to classify facilities-based voice over Internet protocol services under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which it said would help the commission tackle robocalls.

The non-profit public interest group last week amended a March petition to the agency narrowing the field of VoIP providers to be captured under its proposal to facilities-based interconnected VoIP services, which require a broadband connection for real-time voice communications on the public telephone network. That’s instead of a broader field including non-interconnected services, which allow voice communications through a device not connected to the phone network, like gaming consoles.

Title II specifies authority given to the FCC to regulate “common carriers” – utilities such as landline phones, telecommunication services, and electricity. Currently, VoIP services are not included in any specific classification. Instead, the FCC relies on rules based on its ancillary authority given under Title I of the Communications Act, which provides less regulatory authority to the commission.

If classified under Title II, VoIP providers would be beholden to service quality regulations, such as the prevention of ever-increasing robocalls, and to regulations ensuring affordable access to infrastructure for competitive carriers, Public Knowledge said in its petition.

The organization also said that new categorization would prevent a “crisis of legal authority” for the FCC, which already makes VoIP services subject to certain Title II regulations, such as contributions to the basic telecommunications program, the Universal Service Fund. Currently, Public Knowledge argues, regulations governing VoIP services are a collection of ad hoc rulings based on ancillary authority.

Lack of classification ‘threatens’ FCC ability to fulfill legislative mandate

Congress “deliberately used expansive terms” when defining telecommunications in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which gave the FCC authority to regulate sectors within the communications industry, said the March petition. “At a minimum, Congress intended the FCC to regulate any service that behaves like a traditional telephone service – regardless of the underlying technology – as a telecommunications service,” read the petition.

Yet despite a lack of meaningful difference between VoIP and traditional telephone services, the FCC continues to treat VoIP services differently, said the petition. This “failure” of the FCC to classify VoIP under Title II allegedly frustrates the commission’s ability to effectively address robocalls and makes uncertain whether the commission preempted its authority to regulate VoIP services.

“The FCC’s failure to classify facilities-based interconnected VoIP threatens the ability of the FCC to fulfill the most basic responsibilities entrusted to it by Congress,” stated the petition.

The burden of Title II

In a blog post on the matter, communications law firm CommLaw group argued that Title II VoIP providers would likely be required to obtain FCC approval prior to transfers of assets and mergers and acquisitions, which it said would slow transaction speed considerably. Furthermore, it could open the door to “increased state regulatory oversight, requirements, and burdens,” it added.

Earlier this month, Democratic Senators introduced a bill that would give the FCC regulatory authority over broadband by classifying those services as Title II. It would allow the commission greater regulatory authority to make internet service providers respect principles of net neutrality, which prohibit providers from throttling traffic on their networks, participating in paid prioritization, or blocking of any lawful content. The bill, however, has been met with opposition.

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Robocall

Rosenworcel Calls on Congress for Expanded Robocaller Enforcement Protocols

The chairwoman seeks increased authority over autodialers and the ability for the FCC to take robocallers to court.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2022 –Federal Communications Commission May 19, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for legislation from Congress that would increase her agency’s authority to act against robocallers.

At the agency’s May 19 open meeting, the chairwoman asked for those increased powers to go after autodialers and for the FCC to be given the ability to take robocallers to court after they are fined by the agency –  rather than delegating that responsibility to the Department of Justice.

The definition of autodialers is hotly debated, particularly following the Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid ruling of the Supreme Court in April 2021, and which designated autodialers as those robocallers operating from a device that has the capacity to either store a phone number using a random or sequential number generator or to produce a phone number using a random or sequential number generator.

A previously court-held definition of autodialers that others believe to be more accurate stated the only defining criterion for an autodialer is that it must have the capacity to “store numbers to be called” and “to dial such numbers automatically.”

This change in definition by the Supreme Court lessens the FCC’s authority to target autodialers, targeting which is also not provided for by the agency’s STIR/SHAKEN protocols which prevent robocallers from lying to phone owners via caller identification about the station the robocalls originate from.

Rather, the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act governs regulation of autodialers and the court’s narrowing of actors it applies to decreases the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction.

2019’s Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act further forms the FCC’s framework for enforcement against robocallers and autodialers.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Rosenworcel said the commission would require gateway providers, the first U.S.-based provider of robocalls that originate internationally, to perform more authentication measures and certify FCC robocall mitigation plans, and highlighted a study which found that a large portion of robocalls come from abroad.

“We can make it more difficult for these illegal and unwanted calls to hit our networks, we will be much closer to winning our fight,” said Rosenworcel.

“By requiring gateway providers to provide more authentication and the SIP calls in the caller I.D. field.”

The commission adopted a further notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on non-internet protocol authentication methods.

Earlier Thursday, the commission announced new partnerships with nine state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls, raising the number of states participating in the effort to 36.

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Robocall

Lawmakers, FCC Take More Action Against Illegal Robocallers

There are new proposed rules that offer legal protections to those aiding in enforcement efforts against illegal robocalls.

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Rep. Bob Latta, the primary sponsor of the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2022 – Regulators and legislators in Washington continued their efforts to curb unlawful telephony use with proposed rules designed to crack down robocalls.

On Wednesday, Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, introduced the Robocall Trace Back Enhancement Act – an amendment to the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act.

If signed into law, the bill would provide legal immunity for a broad range of entities engaging in private efforts to track, surveil, and report on illegal robocalling scams.

The protected parties include registered consortiums that handle call receiving, sharing, and publishing and all voice service providers and any informants that share covered information.

It would also grant the Federal Communications Commission jurisdiction to take enforcement actions based on the information collected during the aforementioned activities.

FCC measures on cease-and-desist letters

In addition to this legislation, as part of her agenda to combat scam calls, on April 26 FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed closing a loophole to the STIR/SHAKEN regime afforded to small telcos.

Most telcos are required to adhere to cease-and-desist orders regarding illegal spam-calls and generally comply with actions taken by the FCC. The loophole in question gave smaller telcos greater latitude in how they chose to respond to FCC requests.

If adopted, the proposed regulation would require small telcos to abide by cease-and-desist orders, participate in robocall mitigation, cooperate with FCC enforcement, and take responsibility for facilitating illegal robocall traffic.

“International robocallers use these gateways to enter our phone networks and defraud American consumers,” Rosenworcel said in a statement, “We won’t allow them to bypass our laws and hide from enforcement.”

The new rule will be voted on at the FCC’s open meeting on May 19.

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