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FCC Expands Robocall Regime to Intermediaries, Establishes Robotext Protections

FCC approved first rules on robotexts, more on robocalls, and opened comments on dead zone satellite coverage and prison call rates.



Screenshot of FCC

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in its meeting Thursday to require providers that receive and deliver phone traffic to implement call authentication standards mandated under its STIR/SHAKEN robocall regime and to implement basic protections from problematic robotexts.

Under the previous rules, only voice service providers that originate and terminate calls were required to implement analytical tools that are intended to ensure, among other things, that the phone numbers appearing on caller I.D. are actually from the holder of the number to stop scam calls. But the STIR/SHAKEN robocall regime, which the commission began to enforce in June 2021, did not extend to the middlemen, or intermediary, providers.

That changed Thursday when the commission voted unanimously to broaden the regime to first intermediaries. The commission said that there are still some initiating call providers who are not capable of using the STIR/SHAKEN framework and still others who deliberately fail to authenticate the calls, hence why authentication should be implemented along the call traffic route, the commission said.

“By requiring the next provider in the call path to authenticate those calls, the FCC closes a gap in the caller ID authentication regime and facilitates government and industry efforts to identify and block illegal robocalls,” the commission said in a news release.

As such, intermediary service providers that fail to comply with the new rules will now also be subject to removal from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which would mean other providers would not be able to receive their call traffic.

The FCC noted that the new rules, which require the intermediaries to comply with by December 31, would “maximize” the number of authenticated calls.

In addition, the new FCC rules require all voice service providers to take “reasonable steps” to mitigate illegal robocall traffic and submit to the commission a certification and mitigation plan that would also include details about the provider’s role in the call chain, STIR/SHAKEN implementation obligations, and any law enforcement, regulatory or investigation into such illegal calls.

The commission has taken aggressive action in recent months against providers who have allegedly been non-complaint with the regime, including proposing record fines and forcing other providers to halt driving to and receiving traffic from offenders.

The rules impose fines on a per call basis and establish enforcement consequences for repeat offenders.

Illegal robocalls are number one complaint the FCC hears about from consumers, according to the commission.

FCC adopts first rules on robotexts and asks about further regulatory measures

The commission also unanimously adopted rules against scam text messages sent to consumers and is asking the public about further regulator actions it should take to protect against the texts.

The order adopted Thursday would require mobile service providers to block text messages that are “highly likely to be illegal,” including from phone numbers that are “invalid, unallocated, or unused.” The rules will also apply to numbers whom the subscriber said it never used to send text messages and to those of government agencies that identify the numbers as not being used for texting. It also requires the providers establish a point of contact for text senders, which senders “can use to inquire about blocked texts.”

The commission is also seeking comment on a proposal to clarify that Do-Not-Call Registry protections, which blocks marketing messages to the registered numbers in the database, apply to text messages. The commission said this would close the “lead generator loophole,” in which companies can use a texted point of consent to “deliver robocalls and text messages from multiple – perhaps thousands – of marketers on subjects that may not be what the consumer had in mind.”

Comments are due 30 days after the proposal’s publication in the federal register.

Text message scams have increased 500 percent in recent years, according to the commission, with complaints rising from roughly 3,300 to 18,900 per year from 2015 to 2022. The commission noted that unlike robocalls, text messages are “hard to ignore or hang-up on and are nearly always read by the recipient.” They can also include links that leads to websites that can install malicious software on the consumer’s phone, the agency said.

Agency chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel proposed the rules last month.

“Robocalls and robotexts are a huge annoyance for everyone,” said a statement from Nick Garcia, policy counsel to advocacy group Public Knowledge. “We’re frequently bombarded with illegal scams and shady spammers – and many consumers don’t know how to protect themselves or where to turn for help. It’s clear that we need strong rules to cut down on this growing problem.

“The FCC has made great strides in combating robocalls, and it is encouraging to see that work continue while the FCC now takes steps to ensure consumers are protected from illegal and unwanted text messages,” Garcia added. “Today’s rules are a win for consumers, providing a common-sense baseline of protection from the kinds of illegal robotexts that are most obvious to identify—those that spoof invalid, unallocated, unused, or inbound-only numbers.”

Satellite to ground mobile coverage and prison call rates proposals 

The commission also unanimously voted in favor of initiating a proceeding on a proposal from the chairwoman last month to allow for satellite broadband providers to get authorization to use the flexible spectrum already licensed to agreeing ground-based mobile wireless providers to fill in dead zones not covered by the latter.

The supplemental coverage proposal, part of the commission’s “single network future” vision, is for non-geostationary orbit satellite operators, such as low-earth orbit satellite providers like SpaceX’s Starlink, focused on portions spectrum in the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 800 MHz Cellular Radiotelephone Service, and the Wireless Communications Service (2305 to 2360 MHz) bands.

“Connecting consumers to essential wireless services where no terrestrial mobile service is available can be life-saving in remote locations and can open up innovative opportunities for consumers and businesses,” the FCC said.

The commission is also asking how this framework could support access to emergency services like 9-1-1 and wireless emergency alerts.

There have been a number of partnerships between satellite broadband providers and mobile wireless providers for this purpose. In August, SpaceX announced its Starlink satellites will be able to connect T-Mobile’s customers in rural areas to fill gaps in the ground network by having the space company use a portion of T-Mobile’s Personal Communications Services spectrum. The service is anticipated for later this year.

The commission also unanimously voted to initiate a proceeding into implementing a new law requiring the agency to look into the prices charged to incarcerated people to call loved ones.

Passed late last year and enacted in January, the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act requires the FCC to review those rates by expanding its authority over those communications services. Previously, the commission only had authority between states and foreign locations; now, it’s being handed authority to tackle rates and charges for voice and video calls within states. The law requires the regulator to adopt “just and reasonable rates” no earlier than 18 months and no later than 24 months since enactment.

As such, the commission is asking commenters about the expansion of the regulator’s authority to deal with interstate calls, what “just and reasonable” means in the context of the law, how to approach setting rates, and the commission’s ability to ensure communication service for people with disabilities.

The FCC cited studies that it said show incarcerated people “who have regular contact with family members are more likely to succeed after release and have lower recidivism rates.”

Public Knowledge, in a separate statement, also applauded the proposed rulemaking to address “unconscionable phone rates” that “impose undue hardship on families.”

Comments on both matters are due 30 days after their publication in the federal register.


FCC’s Proposed Rules on Robotexts Will Limit Wireless Providers’ Effectiveness: Industry

The ruling would prevent providers from accessing emergency and government services, they say.



Photo of Gregory Romano of AT&T

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – Commenters argue that proposed Federal Communications Commission rules that seek to provide voice consumers more control over robocalls and robotexts would have harmful consequences by limiting their ability to communicate with service providers. 

The FCC released a notice of proposed rulemaking in June that would strengthen the consumers’ ability to revoke consent to receive robocalls and robotexts. It would ensure consumers can easily revoke consent to receive robocalls, require that callers honor do-not –call requests within 24 hours and allow wireless consumers the option to stop robocalls and robotexts from their own wireless provider.  

ACA International, a trade group for the debt collection industry, in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association recommended that the FCC codify reasonable limits on the methods of revocation of consent for robocalls and texts.  

The law, as currently written, would “ensure that revocation of consent does not require the use of specific words or burdensome methods” and codify a 2015 ruling that consumers who have provided consent may revoke it through any reasonable means. ACA International and CUNA asked the FCC to acknowledge the realities of revocation processes. 

“Automated processes cannot be programmed to recognize a virtually infinite combination of words and phrases that could reasonably be interpreted as a clear expression of consumers desire to stop further communications,” it said. The FCC should specify “reasonable means that callers can prescribe, such as a limited set of keyworks that are common synonyms of STOP, which is the universally recognized method to prevent further text messages.” 

Cable industry wants guidance on ‘reasonable methods’

Steven Morris, vice president at NCTA, the Internet and Television Association, added his support that the FCC should provide additional guidance on what it defines as “reasonable methods” of revoking consent and allow callers 72 hours to process opt-out requests. It also suggested that the FCC adopt its proposal to permit one-time texts seeking clarification on the scope of an opt-out request. 

“The FCC’s proposal that consumers be able to revoke consent using ‘any telephone number or email address at which the consumer can reasonably expect to reach the caller’ would also be incredibly complex and likely impossible to effectively administer,” NCTA said. 

Wireless trade association CTIA’s manager of regulatory Affairs Courtney Tolerico said in comments that the proposal severely limits providers ability to send important, service-related communications to subscribers and incentives providers to apply opt-outs unnecessarily broadly, further limiting these beneficial communications and “downgrading the wireless customer experience.” 

It claimed that “even if the FCC had such authority, doing so in the absence of demonstrated consumer harm would be arbitrary and capricious,” saying that the agency does not have reason to enforce laws that would hamper wireless carrier’s ability to serve customers. 

Verizon’s general counsel, Christopher Oatway, expressed the same sentiment, claiming that the FCC “provides no basis to conclude that wireless carriers are abusing their subscribers with unwanted calls or texts.” 

The proposal would “undermine the unique relationship between providers and their customer for wireless service, which today is crucial to Americans’ ability both to conduct their everyday lives as well as to access emergency services and government benefits,” said Verizon. It referred to federal programs like lifeline and ACP that promote connectivity, claiming that its communications with its own customers educates on federal benefit programs. 

‘No incentive’ for abuse by wireless providers, says AT&T

Gregory Romano, vice president and deputy general counsel at AT&T added that “there is no incentive for wireless providers to abuse the current wireless carrier exception,” referring to wireless carriers’ ability to contact their own customers. “The marketplace for consumer wireless service is highly competitive. Wireless providers do not want to annoy their customers with too many messages, or the provider is at risk of losing the customer to a competitor, which is clearly not in the provider’s interest.” 

In June, commenters pushed back against FCC proposed rules that would require mobile wireless providers to ban marketers from contacting a consumer multiple times based on one consent, claiming it will harm legitimate communications. 

Proposed rules are in response to the rising number of telemarketing and robocalls, sated the notice of proposed rulemaking.  

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FCC Proposed Rules Will Harm Legitimate Text Messages, Say Commenters

The rules would ban the practice of marketers purporting to have written consent for numerous parties to contact a consumer.



Photo from robotext lawsuit

WASHINGTON, June 6, 2023 – Commenters claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules that would require mobile wireless providers to ban marketers from contacting a consumer multiple times based on one consent will harm legitimate communications. 

The new rules will set additional protections that would require the terminating provider to block texts after notification from the FCC that the text is illegal, to extend the National Do-Not-Call Registry’s protections to text messages, and to ban the practice of marketers purporting to have written consent for numerous parties to contact a consumer based on one consent. Comments on the proposal were due in May and reply comments on June 6.

“Robocall campaigns often rely on flimsy claims of consent where a consumer interested in job listings, a potential reward, or a mortgage quote, unknowingly and unwillingly ‘consents’ to telemarketing calls from dozens – or hundreds or thousands – of unaffiliated entities about anything and everything,” read the comments from USTelecom trade association.  

Wireless trade association CTIA cited that Medicaid text messages that alert customers to critical health updates may be blocked by the ruling despite the FCC’s acknowledgement that these texts are critical. Many providers are unbending in enforcing robotext policies that mandate agencies must “satisfactorily demonstrate they receive prior express consent from enrollees to contact them.” 

CTIA’s comments claimed that the proposed rules would “do little to enhance existing industry efforts to reduce text spam or protect consumers.” 

Competitive networks trade association INCOMPAS claimed that the current framework is not well suited to allow the industry to universally resolve text messaging issues. “In the absence of standardized, competitively neutral rules, the current dynamics create perverse incentives that allow gamesmanship and arbitrage schemes as well as fraudulent behaviors to thrive.” 

USTelecom commended the FCC for taking these steps and suggested that it expressly ban the practice of obtaining single consumer consent as grounds for delivering calls to multiple receivers by issuing a decisive declaration rather than a rule change. Providing clear guidance will deprive aggressive telemarketers of the plausible deniability they rely on to put calls through, it said. 

The new language proposed in the notice is unnecessary and runs the risk of introducing new ambiguity by not eliminating perceived loopholes through a decisive declaration, read its comments. 

The Retail Industry Leaders Association claimed that the notice would “primarily and negatively impact those who send legitimate text message solicitations, not scam senders and bad actors.” The well-intentioned measures will sweep in legitimate text communications, it claimed, by reducing consumer control and making assumptions on their behalf. 

“Consumers use the DNC list to prevent unwanted telephone call solicitations. They do not expect that the DNC List will prevent normal and desired communications from legitimate businesses like RILA members,” it wrote.

In the event the FCC moves forward with the proposed rules, the RILA urged that the rules include “clear carve-outs or safe harbors” for legitimate solicitations. 

This comes as the FCC considers additional proposed rules that will strengthen consumer consent for robocalls and robotexts by allowing consumers to decide which robocalls and texts they wish to receive.

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Proposed Rules to Limit Unwanted Calls Will Not Protect Consumers, Says CTIA

The proposed rules will not protect consumers and will limit consumer’s ability to receive important messages from carriers.



Image from DFT Communications

WASHINGTON, June 5, 2023 – Wireless trade association CTIA expressed concerns with provisions in the Federal Communications Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in May that would strengthen consumer consent for robocalls and robotexts by allowing consumers to decide which robocalls and texts they wish to receive.  

The draft proposals will not protect consumers and instead will “limit the ability of consumers to receive important, time-sensitive information about their wireless service,” said CTIA. These time-sensitive messages can include bill reminders, international roaming alerts, and fraud alerts, among others.  

The notice as currently written does not acknowledge any record support, policy reason or benefits that the proposed limitations to the current framework would deliver, read the report by CTIA. 

CTIA urged the FCC to add questions to the notice to clarify the unique relationship between wireless service providers and their consumers and the substantial consumer benefits that have resulted under the current framework. 

The action is a response to the rising number of telemarketing and robocalls, stated the Notice. “We believe the rules the commission adopts here strike an appropriate balance between maximizing consumer privacy protections and avoiding imposing undue burdens on telemarketers,” read the Notice. 

The Notice seeks to revise the current Telephone Consumer Protection Act rules and adopt new ones that would provide consumers with options for avoiding unwanted telephone solicitations. The ruling would include a national do-not-call registry for all telemarketing calls. 


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