Joint Press

Senators Collins and McCaskill Press to Give Telephone Companies the Ability to do More to Block Unwanted Calls


        WASHINGTON, DC—Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Claire McCaskill are calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to clarify a law that would enable telephone companies to do more to block unwanted calls, some of which are scam calls, to their customers. The Senators recently led a Committee hearing to examine robocalls and whether the “Do Not Call Registry” is still effective. In addition, the Senators have introduced a McCaskill-Collins bill that would provide more authority to the FCC to combat Caller ID spoofing and to strengthen penalties for those who generate these calls.

            FCC leaders are scheduled to meet tomorrow to consider whether telephone companies have the ability to block unwanted robocalls without violating the Commission’s “call completion” rules.  While the technology to block these calls already exists, phone companies have argued that they lack the legal authority to block unwanted calls.

        FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently issued a proposal clarifying this law, arguing that telephone carriers could in fact block these calls without being in violation of the law. Senators Collins and McCaskill have written a letter to the Commission in support of Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, which must be approved by the full Commission.

           

Text of the Senators’ letter to the FCC is as follows:

Dear Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission:

           

We write to express our strong support for the portion of the proposed declaratory ruling announced by Chairman Wheeler on May 27, 2015, that would clarify that common carriers can offer robocall blocking technology without violating the Commission’s call completion rules.

 

We urge the full Commission to adopt this portion of the proposed declaratory ruling. 

The Senate Special Committee on Aging has long been concerned about the cascade of robocalls that disrupt, annoy, and harass all Americans, but appear to disproportionately affect our seniors.  The Federal Trade Commission currently receives approximately 150,000 robocall complaints a month (and these numbers are almost certainly substantially underreported).  This is a situation that cannot continue.  Whether these calls are an unwanted sales pitch or the beginning of a scam, they must be stopped. 

The Committee held a hearing on June 10, 2015, titled Ringing Off the Hook:  Examining the Proliferation of Unwanted Calls.  During this hearing Professor Henning Schulzrinne, a former FCC Chief Technology Officer and current FCC consultant, explained how advances in technology have made it easy for unscrupulous actors to place a virtually limitless number of robocalls cheaply.  Prof. Schulzrinne also explained how new technology makes it simple for robocallers to disguise or “spoof” a caller ID.  As Prof. Schulzrinne explained, however, it is possible to fight technology with technology, and the technology exists now for carriers to offer robocall filters that have been proven to be effective in combatting robocalls. 

As we understand it, the primary impediment to carriers deploying robocall filters today is a concern that these filters violate call completion requirements.  We believe that concern is misplaced.  Indeed, we have recently introduced the “Robocall and Call Spoofing Enforcement Improvements Act of 2015,” (S. 1540) which expresses the Sense of Congress that telecommunications carriers have the legal authority to offer consumers services that block or filter robocalls.  We are extremely pleased that Chairman Wheeler’s proposal is consistent with our view of the law, and urge its adoption.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to protect Americans from the scourge of unwanted robocalls.

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