New FCC robocall rules promise monthly limits and new blocking tools

The FCC is hoping to better crack down on persistent unwanted robocalls, with new rules putting more responsibility on phone companies to prevent them getting through. It's the latest escalation in an ongoing battle against unwanted and illegal robocalls, particularly those which aren't telemarketing, with new limitations being applied and extra tools for blocking repeat offenders.

While regulations around robocalls have existed for many years now, exactly how much impact they've made day to day is questionable. The relative ease of running automated call systems, and a general lack of awareness among consumers as to how to report and block such calls rather than just hang up on them in frustration, has all contributed to making it a lingering form of daily spam.

The new Federal Communications Commission rules, issued this week, will further tighten the limits on the industry. Two new actions have been applied, one cutting the number of non-telemarketing robocalls, and another putting more emphasis on phone companies themselves to police the process.

The first order, pursuant to Section 8 of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act), has applied new limits on how often per month some organizations can place robocalls to the same number. Until now, there's been no limit on how many robocalls that non-commercial, commercial, and tax-exempt nonprofit organizations can make. Now, it's been capped at just three to any residential phone from a caller within a rolling 30-day period.

Callers must now also allow consumers to opt out of receiving those calls too, the FCC says.

The second order, meanwhile, focuses on the terminating voice service providers: that is, the company which you pay for your landline, whether that be Comcast, AT&T, or another provider. They'll "now be required to take affirmative steps to stop illegal calls when notified of those calls" by the FCC, the Commission says. In addition, they'll be required to help the FCC and any law enforcement efforts involved in identifying the providers of illegal robocalls.

New blocking tools are being added, though consumers will have to opt into them explicitly. Phone service providers will be able to do network-based blocking, in cases where there's a high likelihood of the call being illegal. That will be gauged "using reasonable analytics," the FCC says, including caller ID, network monitoring, and human oversight.

"To ensure that blocking does not stop calls consumers want to receive," the FCC adds, "the Commission required phone companies to immediately notify callers when calls are blocked, provide a list of calls blocked to subscribers on request, and provide a status update on call blocking disputes within 24 hours."

Actually implementing such a system will be down to the individual phone providers, of course, with the new FCC order simply allowing them the so-called safe harbor to offer such a blocking service.