The Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) opening a new docket, Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls, which proposes rules to allow telephone voice service providers to block “illegal robocalls” on behalf of their subscribers.  The NPRM focuses on three categories of calls that carriers can identify as unlawful and block without a subscriber request.  The NOI seeks to build a record on potentially expanding the universe of permissibly blockable calls.

Specifically, in the NPRM the FCC propose to allow blocking of calls from (i) invalid numbers, (ii) valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider, and (iii) valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber.  In addition, the FCC proposes to allow carriers to block calls from numbers when the associated subscriber has requested that it do so, in order to prevent their number from being spoofed to place unlawful calls.

The proposals in the NPRM come after a test conducted by an FCC-support industry “strike force” reportedly reduced scam calls by ninety percent during a trial in the third quarter of 2016.  The test focused on blocking spoofed caller ID numbers that did not actually dial out, thereby complying with the FCC’s call-completion rules.  This follows from the FCC’s 2015 Order in its Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) docket which, in ruling on approximately two dozen disparate petitions for declaratory ruling, clarified that nothing in the Communications Act or FCC rules or orders prohibits carriers from deploying call-blocking technology, through informed opt-in processes triggered by consumers.

The NPRM’s questions center on the FCC’s authority to adopt the proposed rules; information-sharing among carriers to facilitate the contemplated blocking; and whether the categories of illegal calls allowed to be blocked are properly defined.  More broadly, it asks whether allowing such blocking is sound policy.

The NOI seeks comment on how the FCC might expand provider-blocking of unlawful calls where the indicia of spoofing are less black-and-white, with an eye to ensuring that calls that are not “presumptively illegal” do not get blocked.  In connection with this, the NOI asks about a “safe harbor” from liability for blocking calls under the rules.  It also asks what steps the FCC should take to protect legitimate callers if the categories of permissibly blockable calls grow.

Comments on the NPRM will be due on 7/3; reply comments on 7/31.