Telemarketing, Robocalls, and Call Blocking
In 1991, Congress adopted the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to restrict the use of automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages (robocalls). In 1992, the Commission adopted rules to implement the TCPA. The FCC rules cover telemarketing calls and calls that use an automatic telephone dialing system (autodialer) or an artificial or prerecorded voice. Any caller making telemarketing calls or using an autodialer or an artificial or prerecorded voice must comply with these rules. In 2012, the Commission revised its TCPA rules to require callers to obtain prior express written consent from consumers before making telemarketing robocalls to them and to require telemarketers to provide an opt-out mechanism during each robocall so consumers can immediately tell the telemarketer to stop calling.
In 2003, the Commission revised its TCPA rules to establish, in coordination with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a national Do-Not-Call registry. Consumers can ask to have their telephone numbers listed in the Do-Not-Call Registry. The registry is nationwide, covers all telemarketers (with the exception of certain nonprofit organizations), and applies to both interstate and intrastate calls. The registry is administered by the FTC. Registration of a residential telephone number on the Do-Not-Call Registry does not expire.
In addressing the robocall problem, in 2017, the Commission authorized voice service providers to block, by default at the network level, calls purporting to be from invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers and from numbers on a Do-Not-Originate (DNO) list. Phone numbers that are only used for inbound calls by their subscribers, generally government and enterprise users with call centers that receive calls on a specific toll-free number that is not used to make outbound calls, can be placed on a DNO list. When the subscriber’s number is spoofed by a robocaller without the subscriber’s consent, the calls purporting to be from that number are most likely illegal and can be blocked.
In 2019, the Commission clarified that voice service providers could immediately start offering call blocking services by default to customers where the blocking is based on reasonable analytics designed to identify unwanted calls. Voice service providers now can block calls that are part of a suspicious calling pattern as well as obviously fraudulent calls. In addition, many phone companies permit their customers to block unwanted calls, such as telemarketing calls, and may send the blocked call directly to voicemail.
Also in 2019, Congress passed the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act) giving the Commission additional tools to combat robocalls.