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FCC Takes Small Step Forward on Robocalls, Two Steps Back with Text Message Classification

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC — While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made some progress today in the effort to reduce unwanted robocalls, it was overshadowed by the Commission’s decision to classify SMS text messaging as a Title I information service. Consumer Reports, which joined a diverse group of organizations in a letter to the FCC opposing the proposal, argued that the deregulatory move would give free rein to phone carriers to block text messages and engage in other anti-consumer practices.

“Despite Chairman Pai’s claims, classifying text messages as a Title I information service will do nothing new to protect consumers from unwanted robotexts. In fact, the Commission already made it explicitly clear in 2015 that phone companies can and should take action to protect consumers from these types of unwanted text messages,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. “The Commission’s move today is simply a giveaway to phone companies at consumers’ expense. Not only does this regulatory rollback give phone companies unchecked ability to block text messages, it could also potentially eliminate important consumer protections guaranteed under Title II, including Truth-In-Billing, prohibitions on price gouging, and strong privacy protections under the Commission’s CPNI rules.”

Separately, the Commission approved a proposal to better protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, establishing a “reassigned number database.” The database, populated by the carriers and paid for by robocallers, will end robocallers’ frequent excuse that they had no way to know they were calling consumers who had not provided consent to receive robocalls and text messages by allowing callers to check whether a number has been reassigned to a new customer.

“Companies shouldn’t have free rein to robocall consumers just because a previous owner of their phone number agreed to receive calls. This database would set up an effective and workable system to put a stop to this abuse,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “We’re encouraged by this progress to reduce the number of unwanted calls that bombard consumers. Much more, however, remains to be done to better protect consumers from unwanted robocalls. It’s long past time that phone companies should offer free robocall-blocking tools to all their customers and we applaud Commissioner Rosenworcel’s call for phone companies to make these tools available free of charge.”