Robocall Relief Springs Forward

Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai
Mar 9 · 5 min read

This past weekend, Americans across the country lost time that they’re never getting back, had their sleep disrupted, and complained about this injustice. No, I’m not talking about springing our clocks forward for Daylight Savings Time. I’m talking about one of the few constants of American life that are even worse: unwanted robocalls. Unfortunately, I can’t give back that hour that we lost in the wee hours on Sunday morning, but I can announce that meaningful relief is on the way against robocalls.

Because of “spoofed” robocalls, Americans often look at the caller ID information on their phones and are tricked into thinking that the call is from someone in their community — even if it’s a robocall from another country. But thanks to caller ID authentication technology known as STIR/SHAKEN, phone companies can verify the accuracy of the caller ID information that is transmitted with a call. Widespread implementation of this technology would help phone companies identify calls with illegally spoofed caller ID information before those calls reach their customers’ phones. In other words, you’d have a lot more peace of mind when you pick up the phone.

Last year, I demanded that major phone companies voluntarily deploy STIR/SHAKEN, and a number of them did. But it’s clear that FCC action is now needed to spur across-the-board deployment of this important technology. At our March meeting, the Commission will therefore vote on new rules requiring implementation of STIR/SHAKEN by June 30, 2021, a deadline set forth in the TRACED Act, which was recently passed by Congress. Under my proposal, the FCC would also seek public input on additional measures to combat spoofed robocalls, including other measures to implement the TRACED Act.

At our March meeting, we are looking not only to spur the deployment of new technologies to make phone service more consumer-friendly, but also to get outdated and unnecessary telephone regulations off the books. In light of the multitude of options that American consumers now have for voice service, I’m proposing to examine whether certain pricing and tariffing regulations that the FCC imposed on incumbent phone companies when they held a monopoly on local telephone service still make sense today. Specifically, I’ve circulated a proposal to deregulate and detariff what I’m calling “Telephone Access Charges,” which are the last handful of interstate end-user charges that remain subject to FCC regulation. Under this proposal, the FCC would also prohibit all carriers from separately listing these charges — an alphabet soup of charges like the Subscriber Line Charge, the Access Recovery Charge, the Presubscribed Interexchange Carrier Charge, the Line Port Charge, and the Special Access Surcharge — on customers’ bills. Eliminating these line-item charges would make it easier for consumers to understand their phone bills and compare prices among voice service providers as well as help ensure that a carrier’s advertised prices are closer to the prices that consumers actually pay.

We will be rounding out our March agenda with a trio of items from our Media Bureau.

The first is a proposal to make it easier for broadcast TV stations to use a distributed transmission system, or DTS. DTS uses multiple transmitter sites within a station’s authorized service area, each operating on the same channel, in order to provide better service to the public. Among its benefits, DTS technology makes it easier to serve hard-to-reach viewers, improves indoor and mobile reception, and uses TV spectrum more efficiently. As the discerning reader may recall, the FCC majority allowed and encouraged the broadcast television industry to innovate by developing and deploying the next generation broadcast television standard (ATSC 3.0) — essentially an Internet Protocol-based broadcast technology that could deliver richer video content on more devices for consumers. That deployment is now on our doorstep, with broadcasters announcing plans to, by the end of 2020, activate ATSC 3.0 stations in the largest 40 TV markets and release 20 ATSC 3.0 compatible TV models in stores. But there are concerns that the Commission’s current rules inhibit expanded DTS deployments with the new standard. I’ve circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, based on a proposal by America’s Public Television Stations and the National Association of Broadcasters, that seeks comment on whether and, if so, how to modify the DTS rules to ensure that broadcasters planning to deploy ATSC 3.0 are able to use DTS effectively. Specifically, we would look at amending the Commission’s rules to permit, within certain limits, DTS signals to spill over beyond a station’s authorized service area by more than the currently allowed “minimal amount.”

Next up, we’ll consider a proposal to change the Commission’s rules governing the resolution of program carriage disputes between video programming vendors and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs). We propose modifications to time-limit requirements for filing complaints and effective dates for decisions by our Administrative Law Judge, which are designed to provide additional clarity to both potential complainants and defendants, as well as adjudicators. We are also seeking to harmonize our rules, where possible, for the resolution of program carriage, program access, retransmission consent, and open video system (OVS) complaints in these areas. I am optimistic that these changes would help ensure an expeditious program access, program carriage, retransmission consent, and OVS complaint process.

Finally, we’ll take up a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to examine modernizing the methodology for determining whether a television broadcast station is “significantly viewed” in a community outside of its local television market and thus may be treated as a local station in that community for broadcast signal carriage purposes. Our significantly viewed stations rules currently rely on market survey data from Nielsen. However, it appears as though Nielsen’s survey systems no longer align with our rules, making it difficult to demonstrate that a station is significantly viewed. In some markets, this data is not even available, making it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the standard. Given marketplace changes since the current process for determining a station’s significantly viewed status was adopted nearly 50 years ago, this NPRM examines whether this process has become outdated or overly burdensome, particularly for smaller entities, and if so, what changes we should make to our rules.

Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about the hour of sleep people lost this past weekend, but I can say that the Commission is moving forward with multiple proposals to provide relief from outdated regulations and, more important, unwanted robocalls.

Ajit Pai

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Ajit Pai

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