FCC Proposed Rulemaking to Allow Telephone Providers to Block Unwanted Calls

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) will probably soon allow phone companies to block calls from specified caller ID numbers to their customers.  Customers also would be allowed to block calls from caller ID number of their own choosing.

On March 2, the FCC proposed a regulation aimed at reducing unwanted “robocalls.”  The FCC’s agenda for its open meeting on March 23 would include discussion of a proposed rule which would amend the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) regulations to allow phone companies to block calls using caller IDs specified by subscribers, i.e. subscribers could ask that calls from certain numbers be blocked to them.

Further, providers would be allowed to block calls that are not valid assigned caller ID numbers or that are valid caller ID numbers but not assigned to a given subscriber.

It is not specified whether phone companies may charge consumers for these services.

This is the first TCPA-related action by new Chairman Ajit Pai.  In the past, Pai has criticized the FCC’s TCPA regulations, most specifically with regard to the definition of automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”).

In 2015, he said (in dissent to a majority of the other commissioners) the new definition “subjects not just businesses and telemarketers but almost all our citizens to liability for everyday communications.”

He also said the FCC’s decision to allow persons to sue after getting calls at disconnected then reassigned numbers (i.e. a prior subscriber to the number gave express consent to be called, but the number was subsequently disconnected then assigned to a new subscriber) “creates a trap for law-abiding companies by giving litigious individuals a reason not to inform callers about a wrong number.  This will certainly help trial lawyers update their business model for the digital age.”

As predicted, this change has created a whole new wave of TCPA class actions.    

Hopefully the new regulation will be the first step toward stopping illegitimate calls, but allowing legitimate callers to do business without the threat of crushing TCPA class actions based on unclear regulations.