As part of an initiative that would enable voice service providers to better protect subscribers from illegal and fraudulent robocalls, the Federal Communications Commission has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI).

“Despite FCC and other protections to help consumers avoid unwanted robocalls, consumers still get an unacceptably high volume of calls that can annoy or defraud,” the agency explained in a fact sheet. “One particularly pernicious category of robocalls is spoofed robocalls—i.e., robocalls where the caller ID is faked, hiding the caller’s true identity. Fraudsters bombard consumers’ phones at all hours of the day with spoofed robocalls, which in some cases lure consumers into scams (e.g., when a caller claims to be collecting money owed to the Internal Revenue Service) or lead to identify theft.”

To better protect consumers, the NPRM proposes to adopt rules that would permit providers to block spoofed robocalls when the subscriber to a particular telephone number requests that calls originating from that number be blocked (sometimes referred to as “Do Not Originate”). This idea builds on efforts by the industry’s Robocall Strike Force.

In addition, the agency asked for comment on rules that would permit providers to block three types of spoofed robocalls when the spoofed Caller ID cannot possibly be valid—invalid numbers, valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider, and valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber. According to the FCC, providers should be able to easily identify numbers that are invalid, although it requested input on the ability of providers to accurately and timely identify numbers that fall into the second and third categories.

The NPRM also requested comment on how to handle spoofing from internationally originated numbers. Should these calls be subject to the new rules? Or do they require special treatment?

As for the NOI, the FCC sought additional input on whether and how to create a safe harbor for providers from their FCC-imposed call completion obligations when they rely on objective criteria to prevent fraudulent, illegal, or spoofed robocalls from reached consumers. Call completion policies demand care in identifying illegal or fraudulent calls, the agency noted.

“Consequently, we seek comment on objective standards that would indicate to a reasonably high degree of certainty that a call is illegal or fraudulent, whether to adopt a safe harbor to give providers certainty that they will not be found in violation of the call completion and other Commission rules when they block calls based upon an application of objective standards, and whether a confidential review process or other procedures would ensure that providers utilize appropriate objective standards while also reducing the likelihood that callers can circumvent those standards,” the FCC wrote.

Further details, such as whether sharing of information among providers can increase the effectiveness of call blocking methodologies and if provider size, geographic location, or other factors have an impact on which methods provide the most accurate results, were requested by the agency. The FCC also expressed concern that the formulation of a safe harbor might provide a roadmap enabling makers of illegal and fraudulent robocalls to circumvent call blocking by providers and asked about the need for protections for legitimate callers.

To read the FCC’s NPRM and NOI, click here.

Why it matters: Attempting to balance competing policy considerations—some favoring blocking and others disfavoring blocking—the FCC said the NPRM seeks “to arrive at an effective solution that maximizes consumer protection and network reliability,” asking the industry to weigh in on the proposals. The NPRM and NOI were the first topic on the agency’s agenda for its March Open Meeting.