On June 6, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved a declaratory ruling affirming that voice service providers may, as the default setting for phones, block robocalls. This aggressive position means that service providers are strongly encouraged to use reasonable call analytics to block calls before those calls even reach a consumer’s phone.

While the FCC clarified that service providers should inform consumers regarding call blocking and give those consumers an opportunity to opt out of blocking, the FCC’s ruling is seen as an aggressive tactic designed to combat the influx of unwanted telemarketing and robocalls. Such an approach is not surprising, as the FCC has estimated that robocalls cost consumers over $3 billion a year in lost time alone.

The FCC’s ruling was approved despite opposition from multiple industries that utilize phone calls to customers as part of their business model. For example, ACA International filed a comment with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for a related topic, noting just a few of its concerns with the FCC’s ruling:

  • “[The ruling] could harm consumers by resulting in the erroneous blocking of lawful, and often urgent, calls affecting consumer health, safety, and financial well-being.” ACA International noted that data breach notifications, fraud alerts, and other informational calls relating to a consumer’s account may potentially be blocked under the Declaratory Ruling;
  • “[F]inancial services companies may for purposes that are in the best interest of consumers, initiate a large volume of calls in a short period of time. However, this is one analytical factor used by voice service providers and third-party services that could lead to a call being labeled as ‘Potential Spam’, ‘Suspected Spam’, ‘Spam Number’, or ‘Nuisance Label’, and blocked”;
  • The American Banking Association stated that “nearly all of the phone numbers used by the banks to place collections-related calls had been assigned a derogatory label by a voice service provider or mobile ‘app’ deployed by the major wireless carriers”; and
  • “[O]ther types of alerts could also be blocked under the call-blocking authority provided by the Declaratory Ruling, including alerts from a child’s school (e.g., regarding unplanned closures or emergencies); updates about electric utility outages; public safety notifications; healthcare and dosing reminders; service disruption notifications; and urgent vehicle safety recall notifications just to name a few.”

Likely based on the concerns above, while the FCC approved the declaratory ruling, it did not mandate its implementation by service providers. In light of the “cost-effective” nature of making call blocking a default, however, service providers will likely follow the FCC’s lead. This is a great step toward cutting back on unwanted telemarketing and robocalls; however, only time will tell whether legitimate calls are blocked as a result.