The FCC’s TCPA filings did not see many developments between early 2022 and February. However, beginning in February and continuing through March, President Rosenworcel’s office and the Office of Law Enforcement were busy negotiating new robocall partnerships with state regulators and issuing enforcement orders. enforcement against alleged or apparent violations. These activities were expanded in April with the publication of new guidelines and a new pricing structure for the reassigned number database. We cover each of these topics below.
State-Federal Partnership on Investigations
Since President Rosenworcel’s confirmation as FCC Chairperson in December 2021, she has placed high on her agenda building a partnership with state regulators – attorneys general and law enforcement agencies. . In February, March and April 2022, President Rosenworcel signed memorandums of understanding designed to allow for greater cooperation and the sharing of information and other investigative intelligence regarding illegal robocalls and phone scams. These MOUs also reflect the intent of working closely together to enforce consumer protection laws regarding robocalls. The FCC currently has MOUs in place with twenty-eight (28) states and more may be in the pipeline.
The FCC’s Bureau of Enforcement took several actions in mid-February 2022. It was more than six months past the deadline for voice service providers (excluding those who had obtained exemptions) to implement the FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN authentication framework was outdated. The FCC found that VoIP providers Bandwidth and Vonage had not fully implemented the authentication framework into their networks and had failed to meet the conditions of previous exemptions the Wireline Competition Bureau granted them in December 2020 As a result, their exemptions were revoked and the FCC referred the non-issue to the Bureau of Enforcement for appropriate action on February 17, 2022.
The Enforcement Office made a big statement on February 18, 2022, when it proposed a $45 million fine – the largest TCPA robocall fine in FCC history – against Interstate Brokers of America. The FCC found that the offender had “conducted an apparently illegal robocall campaign,” which involved more than 500,000 illegal robocalls in March 2022, “to sell health insurance under the guise that the annual enrollment period had been reopened due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Following an investigation after being alerted by the Industry Traceback Group to alleged illegal robocall trafficking in March 2022, the Bureau of Enforcement has offered to find that the offender acted with intent and proposed to hold the offending business owner personally liable for the fines.
Throughout February and March 2022, the Office of Law Enforcement was also deeply involved in investigating and issuing cease and desist letters to voice service providers suspected of origin or facilitate the illegal traffic of robocalls. As of March 22, 2022, the Office of Enforcement announced that it had provided these warnings to eighteen (18) vendors. The letters would have included warnings and cautioned against the potential consequences of a removal from the FCC’s Robocall mitigation database, which would mean the provider’s traffic could be blocked by downstream voice service providers. . Chairman Rosenworcel attributed some of these enforcement efforts to the recently announced state-federal partnership, as some FCC investigations have been bolstered by findings from some state attorneys general.
Database of reassigned numbers
We last reported in November 2021 that the FCC’s long-awaited database of reassigned numbers was open for commercial use. After an initial period of operation, the FCC decided on April 8, 2022 to reduce monthly subscription fees for the Reassigned Numbers Database to make it more affordable and encourage wider adoption by callers. Depending on the length of the subscription period, the discount would be between 25% and 40% of the initial pricing in effect since November 2021. The new pricing structure is expected to come into effect on April 27, 2022.
The Office of Consumers and Governmental Affairs – which was responsible for administering issues related to the reassigned number database – also issued a public notice on April 7, 2022, in response to callers’ requests to clarify that a caller Using agents to query the database of reassigned numbers is permitted and continues to protect the caller under the Safe Harbor framework adopted by the FCC in December 2018.
With respect to the reassigned number database, we expect the FCC to consider a fee requirement waiver request filed by Hustle, Inc. on March 30, 2022, in the coming months. According to Hustle, its customers – “entities in the non-profit, educational, political and government sectors” – are eager to use the reassigned number database, but have been deterred by the pricing structure, due to the small size of these companies and their typical profile of sending low volume text messages one at a time.
The FCC may soon take further action to respond to pending ringtone-free voicemail requests that we last notified of in September 2021. Chairman Rosenworcel announced on February 2, 2022 that she had circulated an article in internal to the FCC. Although details were not made public in draft form, the announcement suggested that the section, if passed, would dismiss pending petitions and “require appellants to obtain consumer consent before issuing voice mail without ringing”. However, given that no draft has been released and some time has passed since the February 2022 announcement, it is possible that substantial changes to President Rosenworcel’s proposal are in the works. in the wings.
Finally, a recent statement by Chairwoman Rosenworcel also continues to suggest that the FCC is attempting to regain some basis for its TCPA enforcement authority following the Supreme Court’s April 2021 decision in Facebook v. Dugid: “[F]or this agency to be truly effective when it comes to stopping robocalls, more authority is needed. For starters, last year’s Supreme Court decision in Facebook v Duguid reduced the definition of automatic dialer under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which could reduce consumer protection against these annoying calls. We have to settle this. We also need more tools to catch those making these calls, including the ability to seize assets to stop them in their tracks and even the authority to allow the Federal Communications Commission to go straight to court and recover from these bad actors — each and every one of them.” It remains to be seen whether the new actions the president is seeking will come from the legislature or from federal agencies.