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FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Proposes ‘Ringless Voicemail’ Restrictions

The measure would restrict unwanted voicemails appearing in consumers’ inboxes.

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Screenshot of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a 2018 Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON, February 3, 2022 — Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed Wednesday to prevent “ringless” voicemails.

If adopted by the Commission, the regulation would require callers to obtain a consumer’s consent before delivering a “ringless voicemail,” a message left in their mailbox without ringing their cell phone.

“Ringless voicemail can be annoying, invasive, and can lead to fraud like other robocalls–so it should face the same consumer protection rules,” said Rosenworcel. “No one wants to wade through voicemail spam messages because their mailbox is full.”

The chairwoman’s proposal argues against a petition by the robocalling company All About Message, which asserted that ringless voicemails are technically not “calls” and thus should not be protected under the TCPA.

The proposal comes as U.S. phones received more than 50 billion robocalls in 2021, said YouMail Robocall Index. The number is significantly higher than in 2020: 4 billion robocalls reached consumers according to the FCC’s estimate.

The commission’s fight against robocalls finds its authority under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which prohibits unwanted robocalls. The law also prohibits any non-emergency call using an artificial or prerecorded voice to a telephone number without the prior express consent of the called party.

The FCC has made defeating robocallers and spoof callers a top agency priority in recent years. Rosenworcel continues this legacy, declaring that “this FCC action would continue to empower consumers to choose which parties they give permission to contact them.” The Chairwoman has said the agency “is not going to stop until we get robocallers, spoofers, and scammers off the line.”

Screenshot of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a 2018 Senate Hearing

Reporter Justin Perkins is graduate of Howard University School of Law, with a focus on telecommunications and technology. He has in-house experience at the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast and NBC. He brings curiosity and insight to broadband news.

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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Robocall

FCC Announces Majority of States Now Signed Onto Robocall Investigation Partnership

The FCC signed on five states this month and seven last month.

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Illustration from C-Zentrix

WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it has partnered with further five more state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Thursday it had signed on Alaska, California, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Washington state to investigate the robocalls, which can lead to scams. Thursday’s news comes on the heels of a March 28 announcement, when the agency said it signed similar memorandum of understanding with Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wyoming.

Altogether, the agency, which announced the federal-state partnership effort in February, said it has signed on the majority of the United States.

“It shows that we are united when it comes to fighting robocalls—urban, rural, north, south, east, and west,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Today I invite every state and U.S. territory to join this effort and establish information sharing and cooperation structures with the FCC so we can work together to investigate and put an end to spoofing and robocall scam campaigns.”

The agency, which has made fighting illegal robocalls a key mandate, has previously credited states with catching those that allow robocalls.

Earlier this month, the FCC credited the North Carolina Department of Justice in an investigation that identified thinQ Technologies as a “facilitator” of robocalls. The agency, which is working with the Traceback Consortium to identify the culprits, has already sent more than a dozen cease and desist letters to those it has identified in investigations.

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Robocall

FCC Directs ‘Robocall Facilitators’ to Remove Illegal Traffic or Face Call Block

The three letters are the latest in the FCC’s ongoing crackdown on illegal call traffic.

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Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission sent letters to three voice service providers Tuesday to quit allowing illegal robocall traffic on their networks within 48 hours or have their traffic blocked – raising the total number of such letters sent to more than a dozen since last year.

The letters sent to thinQ Technologies, Airespring, and Hello Hello Miami demand the companies investigate the illegal traffic its call clients are pushing on their networks and notify the agency of the steps taken to deal with it within 14 days of the date of the letters.

The FCC said it discovered the traffic during investigations with the Traceback Consortium, which yielded more than a dozen cease and desist letters being mailed out. The agency said in a Tuesday press release that the other letter recipients have so far told the agency they are taking steps to stop the flow of such traffic.

In the case of thinQ, the FCC said the North Carolina Department of Justice flagged the company as a source of illegal robocall traffic. The agency has previously noted that it has been working with state attorneys general to combat the robocall issue.

The agency has made tackling the robocall issue central to its mandate. Last June, large voice service providers were required to put into place measures to block the illegal robot calls, which can often result in Americans being scammed. The regulator measures are part of the regime known as the Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens (STIR/SHAKEN), which require providers to validate calls.

Last month, the agency proposed fining telemarketing company Interstate Brokers of America $45 million for violations of its robocall rules.

Late last year, the commission ruled that small voice service providers that don’t own their own networks must comply with the new stringent robocall rules by June 2022 instead of June 2023, citing the higher volume of illegal traffic coming from them.

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