FCC Releases Unlawful Robocalls Report and Order

On December 30, 2020, the FCC released the Fourth Report and Order (R&O) in the Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls matter (CG Docket No. 17-59).  The R&O is the FCC’s most recent step to implement the TRACED Act and sets forth four new requirements for voice service providers.


First, the FCC has imposed three affirmative obligations for voice service providers to stop illegal traffic on their networks and assist all relevant entities in tracking down callers making the illegal calls:

  1. Respond to Traceback Requests:  Voice service providers must fully and timely respond to traceback requests from the FCC, civil and criminal law enforcement officials, and the USTelecom Industry Traceback Group (“the Consortium”).  This request does not replace the similar requirement in the September 2020 STIR/SHAKEN Oder and instead insures that all voice service providers, regardless of their position in the network or their implementation of STIR/SHAKEN must respond to traceback requests.
  2. Take Steps to Effectively Mitigate Illegal Traffic when Notified by the FCC:  The Enforcement Bureau is directed to identify suspected illegal calls and provide written notice to voice service providers.  The notice is required to: (1) particularly identify the suspected traffic; (2) cite the statutory or regulatory provisions the traffic appears to violate; (3) provide the Enforcement Bureau’s basis for believing the traffic is unlawful, including relevant, nonconfidential evidence from credible sources; and (4) direct the service provider receiving the notice that it must comply with section 64.1200(n)(2) of the FCC’s rules.  Upon receiving the notice, the voice service provider must investigate the identified traffic and either take steps to mitigate the traffic or respond to the FCC that the provider has a reasonable basis for concluding that the identified calls are not illegal.  This provision is intended to build on the safe harbor established in the Call Blocking Order and Further Notice, which allows downstream voice service providers to block calls where an upstream voice service provider has failed to effectively mitigate illegal traffic after receiving notice from the FCC.
  3. Implement Effective Measures to Prevent New and Renewing Customers from Originating Illegal Calls:  Voice service providers are required to know their customers and exercise due diligence in ensuring their services are not used to originate illegal calls.  The R&O does not impose specific requirements or steps on providers to ensure their network is not used for illegal calls, instead granting them flexibility to determine what works best for their networks, but does recommend caution in granting access to high-volume origination services, to ensure bad actors do not abuse the service.


Second, the FCC expands the safe harbor to include network-based blocking based on reasonable analytics that incorporate caller ID authentication.  To get the benefit of the safe harbor, the provider must ensure that its network-based blocking targets only calls highly likely to be illegal, not simply unwanted.   Further, providers must manage this blocking with human oversight and network monitoring to ensure the blocking is working as intended.  This oversight must include a process that reasonably determines that a particular call pattern is highly likely to be illegal prior to blocking calls that are part of the pattern.  Providers should be prepared to justify their blocking procedures to the FCC should it inquire.  Consumer opt in or opt out is not required so long as the blocking is based on reasonable analytics.


Third, the FCC requires that terminating voice service providers that block calls take four steps to improve transparency of blocked calls:

  1. Immediate Notification of Blocking:  Terminating voice service providers are required to immediately notify a caller that the call has been blocked by sending either a Session Initiation Protocol or ISDN User Part response code to the origination point.  Providers should complete the necessary upgrades to ensure their system can send recognizable codes.
  2. Blocked Calls List:  Terminating voice service providers that block calls must make a list of blocked calls available to their subscribers upon request, on an opt-in or opt-out basis.
  3. Status of Call Blocking Dispute Resolution:  When a party files a dispute challenging whether blocking its calls is appropriate, terminating voice service providers must provide a status update to the filing party within 24 hours.
  4. Point of Contact for Verifying Call authenticity:  The same point of contact that handles blocking disputes must handle contacts from callers adversely affected by caller ID authentication seeking to verify the authenticity of their calls.

The R&O declines to extend redress mechanisms to erroneous call labeling at this time, and instead encourages voice service providers and their partners to work in good faith with callers to avoid erroneous labeling.


Finally, the FCC made the following additional decisions:

  1. It declined to extend the safe harbor to cover the inadvertent or unintended misidentification of the level of trust for particular calls.
  2. It declined to take further action under section 7 of the TRACED Act, while reserving the right to act in the future as circumstances may warrant.
  3. It adopted the tentative conclusions proposed in the Call Blocking Order and Further Notice with regard to section 4(c) of the TRACED Act, finding that the FCC has fully implemented section 4(c)(1), except where new rules were adopted in the R&O, and the FCC has properly taken into considerations listed in section 4(c)(2).


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