Businesses rally against proposal to block robocalls

Businesses rally against proposal to block robocalls
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A coalition of business groups is rallying against a federal proposal that would allow phone carriers to block certain calls by default, an effort to crack down on illegal robocalls.

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the health care providers, pharmacies and collection agencies argued the FCC proposal could block "legal" robocalls as well as those that are fraudulent or from scammers.

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"Public safety alerts, fraud alerts, data security breach notifications, product recall notices, healthcare and prescription reminders, and power outage updates all could be inadvertently blocked under the draft Declaratory Order, among other time-sensitive calls," the groups wrote in the filing Thursday.

The FCC is slated to vote on the anti-robocall proposal next week. Pai announced the plan earlier this month, saying it would put teeth behind the commission's efforts to stave off the scourge of billions of robocalls dialing U.S. consumers every year.

Pai said his proposal would clarify the FCC's rules to let carriers filter out robocalls or scam calls from fraudulent numbers.

The groups mobilizing against the proposal include the American Bankers Association, the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management, the Credit Union National Association, the National Retail Federation and many others. Over the past week, businesses who rely on robocalling to reach potential customers have been asking the FCC to put off voting on the proposal in various filings. 

They have asked the commission to open up the proposal to comment, in order to allow the businesses and industry groups to address the sections that they believe will sweep up legal robocalls.

ACA International, a trade group representing collection agencies, creditors and credit attorneys, argued in a filing Thursday that the proposal exceeds the FCC's authority and could even be considered illegal. 

Last week, representatives with business groups, including the American Bankers Association and American Financial Services Association, met with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, to express their concerns, according to a filing earlier this week.

"During the meetings, the Associations expressed support for the Commission’s efforts to address illegal automated calls," the filing states. "The Associations also raised concerns that the draft call blocking Declaratory Ruling currently scheduled for the Commission’s vote on June 6, 2019 could harm consumers by resulting in the erroneous blocking of lawful calls — including urgent calls affecting consumer health, safety, and financial well-being." 

The FCC, which deals with consumer issues, has said it receives more complaints about robocalls than any other topic. Pai and the four other commissioners have pledged to do more to crack down on illegal robocalls, which often target vulnerable populations including senior citizens.  

“We have no intention of delaying next week’s vote because now is the time to act,” an FCC spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “To the extent that any consumers feel that a call blocking service is preventing them from receiving wanted calls, they will have the ability to opt out of the service.”

The commission on June 6 will also vote on a rule to give safe harbor to carriers implementing call blocking informed by a new authentication standard that the industry is expected to adopt this year.