FCC Steps Up Enforcement of Illegal Robocalls: Demands Carriers Immediate Cease Transmissions and Collaborates with State AGs to Broaden Dragnet

In its continuing efforts to combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is sending out a flurry of cease-and-desist letters to entities that are transmitting illegal robocalls, and is working with State Attorneys General to “build robocalling partnerships” to enhance enforcement efforts.

Robocall Suspects are Being Investigated and Threatened with Call Blocking

On February 17, 2022, the FCC announced it has sent cease-and-desist letters to more than a dozen voice service providers suspected of facilitating illegal robocall traffic. These letters resulted from investigations conducted by the FCC in conjunction with USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group (“ITG”), which revealed the carriers are apparently transmitted numerous illegal robocalls, in violation of the anti-robocall provisions of the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules.[1]

The FCC made clear that, should this practice not end immediately, downstream network operators would be authorized to block traffic from these companies. The companies are required to report to the Commission the concrete steps they implemented to prevent a recurrence of these operations. The FCC continues to monitor all these companies’ activities and, should a recurrence take place, stands ready to authorize the blocking of traffic from any of these duly warned companies.

Specifically, the recipients were ordered to immediately take steps to “effectively mitigate illegal traffic” within 48 hours of receiving the letter and inform the FCC and ITG within 14 days about the steps they have taken to prevent customers from using their networks to make illegal calls. These admonishments are getting results, with the providers quickly responding and committing to take actions to stop the flow of robocalls on their networks. The threat of blocked calls has apparently lit a fire under the providers to comply with the FCC’s robocall rules.

Rapid Expansion of Federal-State Partnerships to Combat Illegal Robocalls

The FCC also recently announced that it has signed robocall enforcement memoranda of understanding (“MOUs”) with the State Attorneys General of Colorado and Vermont, bringing the total of such state-federal partnerships to 16 with the goal of extending this level of collaboration to every state and territory. These federal-state partnerships streamline the sharing of information and enable close cooperation on robocall investigations. During investigations, both the FCC and state investigators seek records, talk to witnesses, interview targets, examine consumer complaints, and take other critical steps to build a record against possible bad actors. The MOUs are critical resources for building cases and preventing duplicative efforts.

These joint efforts are already bearing fruit. The most manifest example is the recent case where the FCC and eight State Attorney General investigated and brought down a telemarketer who made approximately 1 billion illegally spoofed robocalls to sell short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans during the Covid pandemic. This investigation, wherein the states provided crucial evidence about the robocall operations, resulted in the FCC issuing a $225 million fine, the largest in its history, and the states filing suit in the Southern District of Texas seeking damages and a permanent injunction against the telemarketer.

For more information, please contact us.

The CommLaw Group has experienced attorneys who can help you to ensure compliance with robocall mitigation requirements and assist in enforcement proceedings. For further information please contact Jonathan S. Marashlian at jsm@commlawgroup.com or (703) 714-1313; or Ronald E. Quirk at req@commlawgroup.com or (703) 714-1305.

[1] 47 USC § 227(b); 47 CFR §64.1200(a)

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