Stakeholders Weigh In on Call Blocking

TCPA Connect

In response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) adoption of a new rule requiring carriers to block robocalls—and accompanying request for comment—stakeholders urged the agency to be flexible in its adoption of the changes and provide broad coverage under the safe harbor.

Carriers including AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all expressed support for the establishment of an expansive “safe harbor” for service providers. For example, Verizon told the FCC that as long as a provider uses reasonable analytics to identify unwanted robocalls and implements a program deploying the SHAKEN/STIR call authentication technology, “the service provider should not be liable for erroneously blocked calls.”

Such a policy “will support the goal of incentivizing service providers to protect consumers with increasingly robust blocking solutions,” Verizon wrote. “Errors do occur, albeit infrequently, with even the most sophisticated call blocking analytics, but the consumer benefits of blocking outweigh the potential downside of a small number of errors. Therefore, consumers will benefit from a strong safe harbor giving providers a green light to block more aggressively.”

AT&T called for “a broad safe harbor,” suggesting that the FCC consider its proposal based on a provider’s “reasonable, good-faith efforts to target and eliminate illegal traffic,” that would offer coverage in the event a provider inadvertently blocks a legitimate call.

“Simply put, a safe harbor limited to insulating providers from liability for blocking illegal calls would do nothing to promote more aggressive action by industry, as the Commission already has confirmed that no risk of liability exists for such calls,” AT&T wrote. “By adopting such a safe harbor framework, the Commission can better achieve its goals of increasing the deployment of SHAKEN/STIR, while significantly enhancing the ability of voice providers to protect their consumers from illegal robocalls.”

A separate statement filed by a coalition of trade organizations (representing banks, utilities, retailers, credit unions and other finance companies) advocated for a number of calls to be deemed critical and therefore unblockable.

Specifically, the groups—including the American Bankers Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Retail Federation—advised the FCC to design the SHAKEN/STIR framework to ensure that a list of specific types of calls are not blocked.

“It is critical that these calls be completed without delay,” the groups wrote, urging the agency to expand the categories of calls that should be included on a Critical Calls List that may not be blocked by providers. “In addition to emergency service numbers, the list should include numbers from which the following categories of calls are initiated: fraud alerts, data breach notifications, remediation messages, electric utility outage notifications, product safety recall notices, healthcare reminders and prescription notices, and mortgage servicing calls required by Federal or State law.”

To read Verizon’s comment, click here.

To read AT&T’s comment, click here.

To read the joint comment, click here.

Why it matters: Although the FCC voted in June to require carriers to begin automatically blocking robocalls, the details are still being worked out, particularly with regard to the safe harbor and designated critical calls that are exempt from the block.