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Stopping Illegal Robocalls Where They Start

FCC Enforcement Affirms Providers’ Ability and Expectation to Mitigate Illegal Calls & Share Info

In November 2018, FCC Enforcement Chief Rosemary Harold, along with Chief Technologist Eric Burger, wrote to eight small telecommunications providers, asking them to respond to specific questions about their cooperation (or lack thereof) in industry efforts to mitigate illegal robocalls. We can safely assume that these providers were targeted because they’d resisted entreaties from others to reign in calls originating or transiting their networks.

I emailed Ms. Harold earlier this month, wanting to learn more about how those providers responded.

On Friday, I got a call from Parul Desai, Deputy Chief, Telecommunications Consumers Division, and her boss Kristi Thompson, Deputy Division Chief. I’ve met them on several previous occasions. They are both tireless crusaders against illegal robocallers, working passionately on behalf of all Americans.

Kristi and Parul told me that seven of the eight providers responded, and all professed their commitment to mitigating illegal calls. This reinforces my belief that no self-respecting leader of a telecommunications company wants their platform to be a conduit for illegal calls. When such activity is brought to their attention, they want to work to stop it – and Kristi and Parul confirmed that’s what the FCC expects of them.

Some providers have told me that they believe CPNI rules prevent them from sharing information about illegal calls. But the enforcers remind us that the CPNI regulations specifically allow such sharing and don’t limit with whom that information can be shared and don’t require a subpoena. See 47 U.S. Code § 222, section (d)(2).

Providers have also expressed concern that FCC regulations prohibit providers from “blocking” calls except in very specific circumstances. However, the enforcers point out that all providers have or should have) provisions in their tariffs, terms and conditions, and/or acceptable use policies prohibiting illegal and abusive calls. Providers are expected to require their customers to abide by those provisions and to take appropriate action if they do not.

So once a provider becomes aware that they are an enabler for illegal traffic, they are fully empowered to do something about it and don’t need any further authority or permission from the FCC.

Parul and Kristi told me that they are happy to receive details from industry that they might use for future enforcement actions (we’d all like to see the perpetrators punished) and expressed their willingness to answer any questions that providers might have – just call or email. To avoid helping the spambots I won’t list their contact info here, but you can readily find it in the FCC Employee Directory.

Many providers already are cooperating with traceback efforts and are proactive about keeping illegal calls from entering through their platforms. I imagine the FCC Enforcement Bureau will write more letters, or take more severe action, with respect to providers that do not.

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