FCC Authorizes Use of Call Blocking Technologies by Telephone Service Providers to Block Spoofed Calls

On September 30th, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) released a brief Public Notice in which it clarified that telephone service providers (including traditional, wireless and VoIP providers) are permitted to block calls from a particular phone number if the subscriber to that phone number requests call blocking in order to prevent its telephone number from being spoofed.” Importantly, the guidance allows the originating subscriber to request blocking, in order to prevent confusion resulting from spoofing of the subscriber’s number. In releasing this guidance, the Bureau stated not only that the spoofed number’s subscriber has a legitimate interest in stopping the spoofed calls,” but also that consumers can be presumptively deemed to have consented to the blocking of [such] calls.” The Commission had included a similar interpretation about call blocking technology (albeit not as explicit) in its 2015 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) Omnibus Order, and the Bureau stated that its intention in releasing the Public Notice was to spur the development and deployment of such technologies.

The Bureau cautioned that the Public Notice does not disturb providers’ general obligation to complete calls” and that carriers will be expected to take all reasonable steps to ensure that calls are not mistakenly blocked for reasons that may include reassigned numbers.” However, it did not clarify or give examples of any such measures, and in fact acknowledged that further guidance on this point may be necessary in the future.

The Bureau’s guidance comes just weeks after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the formation of the the Robocall Strike Force,” which is set to release its initial recommendations to the Commission on October 19th for solutions to prevent, detect, and filter autodialed calls. In light of the Chairman’s vigorous TCPA agenda in recent months, we expect the Commission to continue pushing the telecommunications industry to take action on blocking techniques and other measures to reduce the number of autodialed calls to consumers for the remainder of his term.