Under a proposed rule, voice service providers would cross reference autodialed calls with numbers on the do not call list to block any robocalls to emergency lines.
Robocalls are annoying. But when scammers target critical emergency services, they can also be dangerous.
To prevent robocalls from disrupting 911 call centers, the Federal Communications Commission announced a new initiative this week.
The FCC previously sought to establish a do not call list for government emergency numbers in 2012. But because of concern over the security of do not call lists, the FCC did not fully implement the program.
“This is a good idea in theory. But in practice it has some problems,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel during a commission meeting last week. “A bad actor with access to the list could flood a 911 call center with automatically dialed robocalls and cut off access to essential public safety systems.”
The FCC has proposed a rule to protect 911 call centers, which the commission refers to as public safety answering points, by requiring voice service providers to block any inbound robocalls.
To block the calls, the FCC proposes that registered outbound telephone numbers used to make autodialed calls should be provided to voice service providers. The providers will then be in a position to identify and block the autodialed calls when they are made to 911 call centers.
Limiting the access to the do not call registry to a verified list of voice providers will allow the FCC to develop better ways to safeguard the numbers on the list, Rosenworcel said.
Americans receive more than 4 billion robocalls each month, and the FCC’s action comes as the public, consumer protection groups and state attorneys general have urged federal action to crack down on scam calls.
It’s unclear to what extent robocalls are impacting emergency services lines.
To find out how emergency services have been impacted, the FCC is seeking public comment to address outstanding questions such as whether technological changes have resulted in more unwanted robocalls or if blocking technologies have better shielded 911 call centers.
The FCC has taken numerous steps in recent years to curb nuisance robocalls. The agency voted in 2019 to allow phone carriers to automatically enroll consumers in call-blocking programs. Carriers had until June 30, 2021 to implement caller ID technology that helps digitally authenticate the phone numbers of incoming calls.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.