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FCC Approves Safe Harbors for Phone Companies Who Block Calls

A lighthouse

Posted by Chris Alarie on Mon, 07/20/2020 - 09:53

As part of its ongoing efforts to implement the TRACED Act, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved new safe harbors for phone companies that implement call blocking technologies. These safe harbors come in response to concerns from phone service providers that the technology used to block unwanted robocalls could also inadvertently block legitimate calls, thus leaving the providers liable for damages resulting from improperly and undeservedly blocked calls.

The FCC’s press release announcing the order establishing these safe harbors describes them thusly:

The first safe harbor protects phone companies that use reasonable analytics, including caller ID authentication information, to identify and block illegal or unwanted calls from liability.

The second safe harbor protects providers that block call traffic from bad actor upstream voice service providers that pass illegal or unwanted calls along to other providers, when those upstream providers have been notified but fail to take action to stop these calls.

Of course, callers are likely to wonder how this affects them and if the FCC will provide any means of redress for legitimate callers who find their numbers to be mistakenly blocked. To this end, the FCC also announced a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPR). The FNPR requests public comment “about additional steps to protect consumers from robocalls and better inform them about provider blocking efforts” and, importantly, “seeks comment on notification and effective redress mechanisms for callers when their calls are blocked, and on whether measures are necessary to address the mislabeling of calls.”

Fortunately, the order itself does address this issue:

We require that any voice service provider that blocks calls must designate a single point of contact for callers, as well as other voice service providers, to report blocking errors at no charge to callers or other voice service providers…

Blocking providers must investigate and resolve these blocking disputes in a reasonable amount of time and at no cost to the caller, so long as the complaint is made in good faith… Blocking providers must also publish contact information clearly and conspicuously on their public-facing websites. We further require that when a caller makes a credible claim of erroneous blocking and the voice service provider determines that the calls should not have been blocked, a voice service provider must promptly cease blocking calls from that number unless circumstances change.

It remains to be seen how service providers will practically implement these procedures but callers will need to make themselves aware of the mechanisms for redress once they become available.