The FCC plans to mandate that voice service providers adopt caller ID authentication technology to combat illegal “spoofing” and deregulate longstanding end-user access charges at its next meeting scheduled for March 31, 2020. Under the FCC’s proposal, voice service providers that originate or terminate calls would be required to employ STIR/SHAKEN technology (a framework of interconnected standards to authenticate phone calls as they are passed from carrier to carrier) in their networks no later than June 30, 2021, allowing them and other providers in the call chain to verify that calls are coming from the displayed caller ID number. The proposal would implement provisions of the recently-passed TRACED Act, which requires the FCC to kick off a multitude of near-term rulemakings and other actions aimed at addressing unlawful spoofing and robocalling operations. FCC Chairman Pai previously urged major providers to adopt STIR/SHAKEN technology voluntarily, but his assessment is that the voluntary approach did not move fast enough. In addition, the FCC anticipates launching a rulemaking to deregulate a host of end-user charges related to interstate access service and prohibit carriers from invoicing such charges through separate line items to simplify customer bills.

Although the March agenda is relatively light, the STIR/SHAKEN and access charge items could significantly impact provider costs, tariffing practices, and billing procedures. As a result, providers should closely examine the FCC’s proposals and get their input in early in light of the agency’s recent decision to restrict in-person meetings and expand telework in response to the coronavirus pandemic. You will find more information on the key March meeting items after the break:

Mandating STIR/SHAKEN Framework: The TRACED Act mandates a number of measures designed to combat unlawful robocalls. One of the key measures in the Act is a requirement that all voice providers implement SHAKEN/STIR in IP networks and an alternative call authentication framework in non-IP networks. The draft Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking responds to these mandates in the Commission’s existing call authentication docket. The draft order would mandate that originating and terminating voice service providers implement the STIR/SHAKEN framework in the IP portions of their networks by June 30, 2021. A carrier’s obligations under the proposal would vary depending on where it is in the call chain. First, a voice service provider that originates a call that exclusively transits its own network would be required to authenticate and verify the caller ID information in accordance with the STIR/SHAKEN framework. Second, a voice service provider originating a call that it will exchange with another provider would be required to authenticate the caller ID information in accordance with the STIR/SHAKEN framework and (unless technically impossible) transmit that information to the next provider in the call path. Finally, a voice service provider terminating a call with caller ID information it receives from another provider would be required to verify that information in accordance with the STIR/SHAKEN framework before delivering the call to an end user. The FCC would estimate carrier STIR/SHAKEN implementation costs to range from $15,000 to $300,000.

In the FNPRM portion of the order, the FCC plans to seek comment on whether it should extend the STIR/SHAKEN implementation deadline for smaller voice service providers (i.e., those with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines), as well as those operating in rural areas, so long as they adopt a robocall mitigation program. The FCC also plans to ask whether it should expand the STIR/SHAKEN mandate to cover intermediate voice service providers that neither originate nor terminate calls, and require them to pass along any verified caller ID information they receive. In addition, the FCC would request input on requiring voice service providers using legacy time-division multiplexing and other non-IP technologies to either (1) upgrade their networks to IP to enable the implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN framework or (2) develop a non-IP caller ID authentication technology and adopt a robocall mitigation program in the interim. The FCC anticipates adopting procedures to exempt providers from the full STIR/SHAKEN implementation process in exchange for meeting aggressive call authentication deployment milestones. The Commission also would seek comment on implementing the TRACED Act’s prohibition on voice carriers imposing additional line item charges on consumers and small businesses for the costs of implementing caller ID authentication services.

The FNPRM also would address a topic identified in the TRACED Act for further Commission inquiry. The Act requires the Commission to examine measures to bar access to numbering resources by service providers allegedly assisting unlawful spoofing or robocalling operations. The Commission would examine a number of options for doing so, including imposing “know your customer” obligations on RespOrgs and carriers receiving numbering resources and/or imposing U.S. residency requirements for telephone numbers.

The draft order would include an expedited comment period for these questions. Comments on the proposed STIR/SHAKEN reforms would be due by May 15, 2020, with reply comments due by May 29, 2020.

Deregulating End-User Access Charges: The draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would eliminate FCC pricing regulation for five access charges currently included in some carrier tariffs: the Subscriber Line Charge, the Access Recovery Charge, the Presubscribed Interexchange Carrier Charge, the Line Port Charge, and the Special Access Surcharge. These charges represent the last handful of interstate end-user charges subject to ex ante price regulation by the agency. The FCC would find that increased competition in the voice service market, including by interconnected VoIP, wireless, and over-the-top providers, ameliorates the need for strict pricing controls for these charges. The Commission would seek comment on completely prohibiting carriers from tariffing the charges or whether alternative approaches are necessary to address areas where competition may be lacking. The FCC also would request input on barring carriers from assessing the charges through separate line items on customer bills. The FCC would find that the current descriptions of the charges vary significantly among carriers and unnecessary complicate customer bills. As many of the charges currently are used in the calculation of high-cost support and universal service contributions, the FCC would ask how it can ease the deregulation transition for carriers to ensure they receive sufficient support without increasing the contribution burden.

Comments on the proposed access charge reforms would be due 30 days after Federal Register publication of the item, with reply comments due 15 days later.