On the same day that the FCC set a call blocking declaratory ruling for vote at its July 2020 Open Meeting, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau issued rulings in two long-pending petitions for clarification of the requirements of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Although these clarifications do not address the core questions regarding the definition of an autodialer and consent requirements that were remanded two years ago in ACA International v. FCC, they may signal an effort to clean up TCPA issues in what is expected to be the waning months of FCC Chairman Pai’s tenure at the Commission.

In the first ruling, P2P Alliance, the Bureau ruled that an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) is not determined by whether the equipment has the capability to send a large volume of calls or texts in a short period of time. Instead, the Bureau, while recognizing that the Commission’s interpretation of the ATDS definition remains pending, ruled that “whether the calling platform or equipment is an autodialer turns on whether such equipment is capable of dialing random or sequential telephone numbers without human intervention.” The Bureau also provides an illuminating discussion of the so-called “human intervention” element of prior FCC statements regarding autodialers.

In the second ruling, Anthem, Inc., the Bureau denied a petition to exempt certain healthcare-related calls from the TCPA’s consent requirements. In this order, the Bureau breaks less new ground and instead reiterates that prior express consent must be obtained before a call (or text) is made and that the supposed value or “urgency” of the communication does not necessarily make it permissible.

Besides these two petitions, the Commission has nearly three dozen petitions pending before it on a variety of matters relating to exemptions from the TCPA’s consent requirements, the collection and revocation of consent, the “junk fax” provisions, and other questions raised by the flood of TCPA class action litigation in the last five years. If the FCC begins addressing these other pending petitions, the course of TCPA class action litigation could change significantly.


Continue Reading Beginning of a TCPA Clean-Up? FCC Sets Another Robocall Blocking Item for Vote While Addressing Two of Nearly Three Dozen Pending Petitions

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:


Continue Reading FCC Plans to Mandate STIR/SHAKEN Anti-Spoofing Framework, Deregulate End-User Access Charges at March Meeting

In the latest episode of Full Spectrum’s Inside the TCPA series, Partner Steve Augustino and Senior Associate Brad Currier take a closer look at shifting strategies to provide effective enforcement of TCPA violations. Unlike TCPA actions of the past, which focused primarily on the entity that is placing the call, these new TCPA actions

On August 1, the FCC took another step in its ongoing effort to combat deceptive and unlawful calls to consumers. This action once again sets its sights on a common target:  concealment or alteration of the originating number on a communication. This practice is known as “spoofing” and, when conducted with an intent to cause harm to consumers, is unlawful. In the August 1 Report and Order, the FCC amended its Truth In Caller ID rules to expand anti-spoofing prohibitions to foreign-originated calls and text messaging services.

Once these rules take effect, the FCC closes a significant gap in its prior rules – calls which originate outside the United States – at the same time that it acts preemptively to prohibit deceptive spoofing in a growing area – text messaging. In the process, the FCC will enhance one of its most commonly used tools in its effort to combat unlawful robocalls – fines for unlawful spoofing. Generally, the FCC has attacked parties that originate unlawful robocalls by fining them for the subsidiary violation of spoofing the unlawful calls. In telecommunications enforcement, spoofing violations are the tax evasion charges to Al Capone’s criminal enterprise.


Continue Reading FCC Expands Anti-Spoofing Prohibitions to Foreign-Originated Calls, Text-Messaging Services

Even with the dog days of summer upon us, the FCC shows no signs of slowing down on its policymaking priorities in a jam-packed agenda for its next open meeting on August 1, 2019. Headlining the agenda is a proposal to establish a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) offering $20.4 billion over a decade to support high-speed broadband deployment to unserved areas. The RDOF would eventually replace the FCC’s Connect America Fund (“CAF”) as the agency’s primary universal service program for high-cost areas. The areas receiving RDOF support would be determined by a new agency-led information collection, requiring more granular service data from broadband providers. As with the CAF, the RDOF proceeding is sure to engender debate in the broadband industry about the appropriate performance benchmarks, auction bidding rules, and data collection mechanisms. In addition to the RDOF, the FCC also plans to adopt items at the August meeting to reform how it allocates Rural Health Care Program funding; streamline licensing procedures for small satellite systems (otherwise known as “smallsats”); establish procedures for the auction of new toll free numbers; implement 911 direct dial and location information requirements on multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”) often found in offices, hotels, and college campuses; expand the agency’s anti-spoofing rules; and limit the franchise fees placed on cable operators.

The August agenda items impact all corners of the telecommunications industry. You will find more details on some of the most significant August meeting items after the break:


Continue Reading FCC Previews Summer Blockbuster Meeting, With USF Reform, Smallsat Licensing, and Anti-Spoofing Measures on Tap for August

“Yes FCC, we meet again old friends” was the message comedian John Oliver had for the FCC on his show Last Week Tonight, when he devoted nearly 20 minutes to an in-depth criticism of “robocalls” and the FCC’s approach to regulating such calls. (Oliver had previously taken aim at the FCC in multiple segments about net neutrality – which included comparing then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo – and he allegedly crashed the FCC’s comment system after encouraging his viewers to submit pro-net neutrality comments in the proceeding that led to the decision to revert back to light-touch regulation of broadband Internet access service.) He ended the March 10th segment by announcing that he was going to “autodial” each FCC Commissioner every 90 minutes with a satirical pre-recorded message urging them to take action to stop robocalls.

The irony of John Oliver making robocalls in order to protest robocalls is rather funny. But, it raises the question – are these calls legal? The fact that the calls appear to be lawful – and would be legal regardless of the action Oliver called for in the program – highlights that there is an important distinction between illegal calls and unwanted calls. In the end, Oliver’s segment demonstrates some of the problems with modern efforts to apply the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), a statute that was adopted well before the proliferation of cell phones in America, and seems to deter many legitimate calls while not sufficiently stopping scam calls.


Continue Reading John Oliver Robocalls the FCC: Is it Legal?

[Spencer Elg co-wrote this post]

The current and future definition of what qualifies as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) remains a hotly debated and evaluated issue for every company placing calls and texts, or designing dialer technology, as well as the litigants and jurists already mired in litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Last year, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s ATDS definition in ACA International v. FCC, Case No. 15-1211 (D.C. Cir. 2018). Courts since have diverged in approaches on interpreting the ATDS term.  See, e.g., prior discussions of Marks and Dominguez. All eyes thus remain fixed on the FCC for clarification.

In this post, we revisit the relevant details of the Court’s decision in ACA International, and prior statements of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai concerning the ATDS definition to assess how history may be a guide to how the FCC approaches this issue.


Continue Reading Taking Stock of the TCPA in 2019: What is an “Autodialer”?

In the largest forfeiture ever imposed by the agency, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a $120 million fine against Adrian Abramovich and the companies he controlled for placing over 96 million “spoofed” robocalls as part of a campaign to sell third-party vacation packages.  The case has received significant attention as an example of the growing issue of spoofed robocalls, with lawmakers recently grilling Mr. Abramovich about his operations.  The item took the lead spot at the agency’s May meeting and is emblematic of the Pai FCC’s continued focus on illegal robocalls as a top enforcement priority.  While questions remain regarding the FCC’s ability to collect the unprecedented fine, there is no question that the FCC and Congress intend to take a hard look at robocalling issues this year, with significant reforms already teed up for consideration.

Continue Reading FCC Imposes Record-Setting $120 Million Fine for Spoofed Robocall Campaign

At the November Open Meeting of the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”), Commissioners approved a Report and Order (“Order”) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) that targets a high-priority issue for Chairman Pai – curbing illegal telemarketing and other calls.  Acting with unusual speed (at least, by the standards of past Commissions), the Order implements a number of proposals made in March 2017 (for more see our earlier post).  With the Order, the FCC adopts rules that enable voice service providers to block calls from invalid, unallocated, and unassigned numbers before they ever reach a consumer’s phone, while the FNPRM seeks input on ways to make sure that blocking does not impact lawful calling practices. FNPRM comments are due by January 23, 2018 and reply comments by February 22, 2018.

Continue Reading FCC Permits Limited Blocking to Curb Unlawful Robocalls; Challenge Process, Effectiveness Teed Up for Further Evaluation

As part of its August 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (“NAL”) proposing over $82 million in fines against Philip Roesel and the insurance companies he operated for allegedly violating the Truth in Caller Act by altering the caller ID information (a/k/a “spoofing”) of more than 21 million robocalls in order to generate sales leads and avoid detection by authorities.  The FCC separately issued a Citation against Mr. Roesel and his companies for allegedly violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by transmitting the robocalls to emergency, wireless, and residential phone lines without consent.  The NAL and Citation represent just the latest salvos in the FCC’s continuing assault on robocalling in general and deceptive uses of spoofing in particular.  With $200 million in proposed fines in only two cases, it is clear that such issues will remain an enforcement priority under Chairman Pai.

Continue Reading August 2017 FCC Meeting Recap: FCC Rings Up Another Spoofing Robocaller, Proposing Over $82 Million in Fines