WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission has voted to pass a declaratory ruling that allows phone service providers to automatically block suspected robocalls unless a consumer opts out. The proposal, which had been opposed by credit unions, includes what the FCC chairman had called a “safety valve” for legitimate callers, but it’s insufficient, according to the credit union trade groups.
“People are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai during a meeting of the FCC’s commissioners at which the proposal was voted on. “My message to the American people today is simple: We hear you, and we are on your side.”
But credit unions and other groups say the FCC isn’t on their side. In a statement following the vote, NAFCU said the FCC’s declaratory ruling could also block legitimate businesses, including credit unions, from contacting their members. CUNA, however, was more muted in its response.
“We remain disappointed that the FCC crafted this new, far-ranging policy without the opportunity for public feedback,” said Carrie Hunt, NAFCU EVP-government affairs and general counsel. “While the FCC’s inclusion of language requiring phone companies to allow legitimate businesses to challenge erroneously blocked calls is a positive step, necessary and time-sensitive calls and texts would still be significantly delayed or prevented entirely as a result of this policy. In the event of fraud or a data breach, consumers could be left in the dark for days, exposing their financial accounts to increased risks and theft.”
NAFCU said it wants the FCC and Congress to revisit the issue, saying it’s “imperative policy distinguishes between important consumer communications and illegal robocalls.”
CUNA said it will continue to work with the FCC to address any CU outstanding issues.
“We thank Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly for recognizing the legitimate need for credit unions to contact their members to preserve their financial health and security,” said Ryan Donovan, CUNA chief advocacy officer. “We will continue to engage with the Commission to address credit unions’ outstanding concerns, and value today’s confirmation that the FCC is open to work with us on fine tuning this rule moving forward.”
'Please, Please, Please Do Something'
Ahead of the vote, Pai read from letters he said he has received from consumers in which they complained of robocalls. He quoted consumers who wanted the FCC to “please, please, please, please” do something, who said they had stopped answering their phones, and who said they had to set their phones to “do not disturb” in order to get some rest.
“This is what I hear when I travel across the United States, except these contain no expletives,” Pai said.
The FCC chairman acknowledged the new plan is “not a silver bullet,” but said he believes the declaratory ruling will provide greater clarity to consumers on both opting out and opting in to calls.
The plan would allow voice service providers to use consumers’ own phone contact lists as the basis for whether or not to allow a call to take place. For credit unions that are not included in a member’s contact list, it raises a challenge on how to contact members in event of fraud and other issues.