FCC Should Think Twice Before Hanging Up on Robocalls

Earlier this month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed new measures that would enable mobile carriers to block robocalls.

“Combatting the scourge of unwanted robocalls has topped my consumer protection agenda since I became FCC Chairman,” he wrote in a blog post.

Specifically, the FCC seeks to allow phone companies to block robocalls for their customers without affirmative consent. In other words, blocking robocalls would become the default setting; customers would not need to opt in for this service, but they could opt out. It would also allow consumers to block calls from any number that isn’t from a pre-approved list or their contacts list.

Moreover, the FCC would like to create a “safe harbor” for companies that block calls that can’t be authenticated through the SHAKEN/STIR system, which combats illegal caller ID spoofing. By reducing the risk of punishment for blocking the wrong numbers, this safe harbor will encourage carriers to block more shady calls.

The FCC will vote on these measures at its open meeting on June 6. All FCC Commissioners—Brendan Carr, Mike O’Rielly, Geoffrey Starks and Jessica Rosenworcel—have spoken out against scam robocalls.

While many people understandably rejoiced at the thought of never receiving another scam call from a “credit reporting agency,” the issue is not as cut-and-dry as it seems.

In fact, these measures could cause major problems for businesses with legitimate uses for robocalls.

Commissioner O’Rielly addressed this concern in a speech for ACA International, a trade group that represents companies in the debt collection industry, “Repeat after me: ‘robocall’ is not a bad word. There are good and legal robocalls, and there are scam and illegal robocalls, and it’s the latter that are wreaking havoc on the nation’s communications networks.”

Commissioner O’Rielly makes a good point. Robocalls aren’t always bad. School districts use them to alert students of snow days; dentist offices use them to remind patients of upcoming appointments; and yes, collection agencies use them to remind people to pay their debts on time.

The truth is that while these calls may be annoying, they serve a legitimate purpose and deliver valuable information to consumers. Most people would like to be alerted of upcoming due dates or possible credit card fraud, and often robocalls are the most efficient way to convey information.

This could put up a roadblock for financial companies, who are required to notify customers in certain situations. In an information breach that affects millions of people, it would be nearly impossible for a company to manually reach each customer in a timely manner.

At the core of it, everybody hates robocall scams, but not every robocall is a scam. For this reason, the FCC should carefully consider how its rules affect legitimate robocalls.

Author: Bethany Patterson

Photo credit: Ant & Carrie Coleman