FCC’s Pai Muscles Against Illegal Robocalls

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is making it clear he wants to silence illegal robocalls.

Policing illicit robocall practices is a top consumer-protection priority for the agency under Pai’s leadership, he’s said. The agency June 22 voted in favor of a proposed $120 million fine against accused Miami-based robocall scammer Adrian Abramovich. In a June 22 blog post previewing the agency’s July meeting agenda, Pai condemned illegal robocalls as part of an “unholy triad of consumer scourges” (the other prongs of that triad: “slamming and cramming” and rural call completion issues).

Pai said the agency plans to vote July 13 to ask for public input on potentially launching an authentication system to verify phone calls’ origins and a database on reassigned phone numbers. He talked up concerns over robocalls—including those whose sources are obfuscated by “spoofing”—at the agency’s June 22 meeting.

“Spoof robocalls are a growing problem, and I hear complaints about them all the time,” Pai told reporters. All three FCC commissioners voted to support the proposed fine on Abramovich, who’s accused of manipulating phone numbers to mimic recipients’ home area codes and prefixes.

The proposed fine marks the first large-scale spoofing enforcement action under the Truth in Caller ID Act, which bans callers from obscuring their identity to harm consumers, Pai said.

The commissioners showed a united front in the enforcement action vote. It’s unclear whether they’ll agree on future rulemaking items. Unanimous support could prove harder to get if Pai decides to take a more generalized approach to cracking down on robocalling, rather than targeting specific practices like spoofing.

Courts are taking a closer look at robocalls, too. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit June 22 affirmed a district court’s judgment in Alberto Reyes Jr. v. Lincoln Automotive Financial Services that the consumer in the case couldn’t revoke consent to be called under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act “when that consent forms part of a bargained‐for exchange” such as a binding contract.