Recently, on May 20, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Report and Order (“Order”), as well as a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (all available here), with a plain objective: to “take further steps to stem the tide of foreign-originated illegal robocalls and seek comment on additional ways to address all such calls.” Order ¶ 1. As stated by the FCC, “reducing illegal robocalls that originate abroad is one of the most vexing challenges we face in tackling the problem of illegal robocalls.” Id. The Order was adopted by a unanimous, 4-0 vote by the FCC after it had received comments over the last nine months on various topics, including whether so-called “gateway providers” should be required to authenticate caller identification information and implement other efforts to reduce the number of illegal prerecorded and/or artificial voice “robocalls” originating overseas.
A “gateway provider” is a U.S.-based provider that acts as an intermediary for an international call by receiving a call directly from a foreign provider before transmitting that call downstream to other U.S.-based providers for termination. Order ¶ 25. This definition is not static but rather one that applies on a call-by-call basis, i.e., a provider is a gateway provider—and subject to the FCC’s new Order—only for those calls in which it acts as a gateway provider. Id. ¶ 28. Per the FCC, commenters “overwhelmingly” supported the imposition of additional requirements on gateway providers in order to “stop the flood of foreign-originated illegal calls.” Id. ¶ 21.
As predicted, amendments to the TCPA – in the form of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (the “TRACED Act”) – were signed into law by the President of the United States on December 30, 2019. The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) applauded this milestone on Twitter, commenting: “[T]he TRACED Act was signed into law, giving the FCC and law enforcement greater authority to go after scammers.” As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility: the enactment started the countdown for a long list of actions that the FCC is required to take during 2020 and beyond. This will add to the already active TCPA dockets at the FCC.
We share below the timeline for these actions to help our readers anticipate and prepare for the regulatory activities that will ensue. We summarized the content of these required FCC actions previously at this post.
Senate Bill 151, now called “the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act” (the “TRACED Act”), has been reconciled with the House of Representatives’ bipartisan bill House Bill 3375 and was passed in the House on December 4, 2019. This revised amendment has been returned to the Senate for a final vote and is expected to become final legislation “if not this week, then next week,” according to the bill’s sponsor, Representative John Thune. Thus, the prospects for passage of TCPA legislation currently look quite positive.
As drafted, the legislation will kick off a number of activities by the FCC, and may, as a practical matter, require the agency to take prompt actions on long-awaited rulings on critical statutory definitions. We highlight below some of the most notable revisions in the TRACED Act made since July 2019.
The FCC on August 1 voted to adopt enhanced Truth in Caller ID rules that will subject a broader range of “spoofed” calls to new heftier statutory civil penalty and potentially criminal sanctions for willful and knowing violations of these FCC requirements. Companies using spoofing technology should have until early 2020 to assess their operations to ensure compliance prior to these amended rules taking effect.
At its Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (R&O) to amend the current Truth in Caller ID rules. The text of the adopted version of the R&O was released on August 5, 2019 and largely remains unchanged since the release of the draft Second R&O. It appears that the rules adopted build upon the framework the FCC proposed in its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from in February 2019 (click here for our earlier summary of the Notice). Overall, the Second R&O mirrors most of the FCC’s original proposals. The differences we highlight below are relatively technical, reflecting the FCC’s attempt to grapple with and clarify the scope of rule changes in light of foreseeable business use cases that may cause problems that the RAY BAUM’S Act intended to prevent.
On June 24, 2019, the FCC’s adopted Declaratory Ruling and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Third FNPRM”) was published in the Federal Register, triggering the commenting period deadlines. We previously discussed in detail the various components of the Third FNPRM here and here. Comments on this Third FNPRM are due by Wednesday, July 24, 2019, and reply comments are due by Friday, August 23, 2019. Drinker Biddle’s TCPA team will continue to monitor this docket and related developments as they become available.
While the FCC has a record open to adopt guidance and a new definition for what it considers as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) and related TCPA matters, there appears to be growing consensus on “Robocall” legislation in the two houses of Congress that may be moving TCPA legislation closer to reality. On the heels of the Senate passing Senate Bill 151 (entitled “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act”)Senate Bill 151 (entitled “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act”), the House of Representatives yesterday introduced a new bipartisan bill – House Bill 3375 – that would bolster the prospects that Congress may be able to pass legislation this year.
Businesses may dial large volumes of numbers daily for a variety of legitimate purposes. These calls now appear to have become swept up and conflated with illegal robocalls, with a number of undesirable consequences. Certainly policy makers at the FCC, in reacting to understandable concerns about fraudulent and illegal calling, have been introducing more and more opportunities for voice service and app providers to apply non-transparent, subjective standards to block calls, and further muddy the water for business callers. Continue reading
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “Legislating to Stop the Onslaught of Annoying Robocalls” on April 30, 2019, that focused on seven bills pending before the Committee. While lawmakers and witnesses generally agreed that illegal and abusive robocalls are a problem, the fix or immediate solution in the form of new legislation was less clear.
Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) opened the hearing by summarizing the current state of pervasive robocalls and calling for voice service providers to make available call-blocking services to all customers free of charge. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) shared this sentiment, emphasizing the need for a bipartisan solution with wide support. As Walden observed, robocalling is a topic that comes up at every single town hall meeting held in recent months. Several bill sponsors made opening statements regarding their respective bills, which we summarize briefly below. Continue reading
Since Chairman Ajit Pai took office, combatting illegal robocalls and malicious spoofing has become the FCC’s top consumer protection priority. In anticipation of yesterday’s Open Commission Meeting, Chairman Pai issued another press release on Wednesday, calling for “a robust caller authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing” and criticizing carriers that lacked commitment to deploy the SHAKEN/STIR framework by the end of 2019. Between Chairman Pai’s 2018 demands that the FCC make real progress in call authentication and yesterday’s Open Meeting to vote on its draft Proposed Rulemaking to amend existing Truth in Caller ID Rules, Chairman Pai solicited details from several large telecommunications carriers about their caller ID authentication plans. These carriers’ submissions are available here.
The FCC has announced its intention to take another step in combatting fraudulent robocalls by amending its Truth in Caller ID rules to extend to communications originating from outside the United States, as well as expanding the scope of covered communications services to include text messages and additional voice services. Specifically, in anticipation of its scheduled January 30, 2019 Open Meeting, the FCC, just prior to its shutdown on January 3, 2019, released a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which would implement new FCC rules and definitions designed to deter malicious caller identification spoofing. The proposed rules are intended to update current FCC Truth in Caller ID rules to reflect Congress’ recent enactment of Section 503 of the RAY BAUM’S Act that modified section 227(e) of the Communications Act as well as to “expand and clarify the prohibition on misleading or inaccurate caller identification information.” Continue reading