FCC Seeks Comment on Autodialed Calls to Reassigned Numbers

On March 23, 2018, shortly after the court set aside the FCC’s rule establishing a one-call safe harbor for reassigned numbers, the FCC released a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comments on establishing databases to prevent unwanted calls to numbers that have been reassigned. Under this proposal, one or more databases would be developed to provide callers with the comprehensive and timely information they need to discover that a number has been reassigned before making a call to that number. The Commission proposes that the database would provide callers with information about when numbers are disconnected. The FCC reasons that this will best allow callers to identify, at the earliest possible point, when a subscriber can no longer be reached at that number. According to the FCC, “with timely access to such data, callers will be best positioned to rid their calling lists of reassigned numbers before calling them.” The FCC seeks comment on whether callers who choose to use the reassigned numbers database should be afforded a “safe harbor” from TCPA liability for all calls to reassigned numbers in the database, or some subset of such numbers.

In connection with this proposal, the FCC seeks comment on 1) the specific information that callers who choose to use a reassigned numbers database need from such a database; 2) how to ensure that the information is reported to a database; and 3) the best way to make that information available to callers who want it.  The FCC also seeks comment on the following:

  1. Whether the data should be provided to callers in the CSV (comma-separated values) or XML (eXtensible Markup Language) format or some other format(s)?
  2. Any specific criteria or requirements that an entity must satisfy to become an eligible user of the database.
  3. Whether database users should be subject to a registration requirement.
  4. How service providers should be compensated for the costs of reporting data to a reassigned numbers database and the cost to callers to use the database.
  5. How often a caller would need to check a reassigned numbers database to avail themselves of the safe harbor?

Comments on this matter are due by June 7, 2018 and reply comments are due by July 9, 2018. Visit FCC for more information. 

FCC Releases Rural Call Completion Order and Further Rulemaking

Comments are due by June 4; reply comments are due by June 19.

The FCC has released its Rural Call Completion Order (RCC Order) and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Third FNPRM). In the RCC Order, the FCC adopts a new rule to address rural call completion issues, including issues raised by AICC. The FCC’s rule requires “covered providers,” defined as entities that select the initial long-distance route for a large number of lines, to monitor the performance of the “intermediate providers” to which they hand off calls and holds covered providers responsible for the entire path of the call.  The FCC also requires covered providers to make available a point of contact to address rural call completion issues.

Specifically, the FCC’s rule adopted in the RCC Order provides that a covered provider, for each intermediate provider with which it contracts, shall: (a) monitor the intermediate provider’s performance in the completion of call attempts to rural telephone companies (both incumbent and competitive local exchange carriers ) from subscriber lines for which the covered provider makes the initial long-distance call path choice; and (b) based on the results of such monitoring, take steps that are reasonably calculated to correct any identified performance problem with the intermediate provider, including removing the intermediate provider from a particular route after sustained inadequate performance. This requirement entails both prospective evaluation to prevent problems and retrospective investigation of any problems that arise. The FCC also requires covered providers to take steps that are reasonably calculated to correct any identified performance problem with the intermediate provider. Although covered providers have flexibility in the remedial steps they choose so long as they pursue a solution that is reasonably calculated to be effective, the FCC specifically requires removing intermediate providers from routes where warranted.

The FCC requires covered providers to exercise oversight regarding their entire intermediate provider call path to rural destinations. However, the FCC does not cap the number of intermediate providers.

Covered providers are required to make available on their websites a telephone number and email address for the purpose of receiving and responding promptly to any rural call completion issues. The contact information must be easy to find and use. Covered providers must ensure that any staff reachable through this contact information has the technical capability to promptly respond to and address call completion concerns. The contact information must be kept current on their websites and updated with any changes within ten business days.

The FCC declines to set specific performance targets or benchmarks for call answer rates, call completion rates, or any other performance metric.

Rural Call Completion Further Rulemaking

In the Third FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on rules to be applied to intermediate providers to address rural call completion issues and to comply with the Rural Call Completion Act (RCC Act).  Most of the proposed rules for intermediate providers follow the rule adopted for covered providers and will work in connection with that rule to prevent rural call completion issues, address issues when they occur, allow alarm industry members to identify the entities involved in call completion issues and provide a contact person to resolve any issues.

The Third FNPRM also asks for comment on service quality standards to be applied to intermediate providers.

The FCC seeks comment on the following issues:

  1. The FCC proposes to require any intermediate provider to register with the FCC, and provide its business name, primary address; the name, telephone number email address and business address of its regulatory contact and/or designated agent for service of process; all business names that the intermediate provider has used in the past; and the states in which it provides service. The FCC also proposes that a point of contact must be provided for addressing rural call completion issues including the name, title, business address, telephone number and email address of at least one contact person.
  2. The FCC proposes that a covered provider may not rely on any unregistered intermediate providers in the path of a given call.
  3. The FCC proposes that covered providers must be responsible for knowing the identity of all intermediate providers in a call path and must furnish upon request to the FCC or state authorities the identities of any or all intermediate provides in the respective call paths.

The FCC also seeks comment on service quality requirements for intermediate providers. The RCC Act requires intermediate providers that offer, or hold themselves out as offering, the capability to transmit covered voice communications from one destination to another and that charge any rate to any other entity (including an affiliated entity) to comply with “service quality standards” to be established by the Commission. In promulgating such standards, the Commission must “ensure the integrity of the transmission of covered voice communications to all customers in the United States” and “prevent unjust or unreasonable discrimination among areas of the United States in the delivery of covered voice communications.” The term “service quality standards” is not defined in the RCC Act. However, the FCC notes that “the Senate Commerce Committee Report states that such standards ‘could include the adoption of specific call completion metrics or the more general adoption of duties to complete calls analogous to those that already apply to covered providers under prior Commission rules and orders.’”

The FCC seeks comment on the following issues concerning service quality standards for intermediate providers:

  1. The FCC proposes to require intermediate providers to take reasonable steps to: (1) prevent “call looping,” a practice in which the intermediate provider hands off a call for completion to a provider that has previously handed off the call; (2) “crank back” or release a call back to the originating carrier, rather than simply dropping the call, upon failure to find a route; and (3) not process calls so as to “terminate and re-originate” them (e.g., fraudulently using “SIM boxes” or unlimited VoIP plans to re-originate large amounts of traffic in an attempt to shift the cost of terminating these calls from the originating provider to the wireless or wireline provider).
  2. The FCC states that Section 64.1601(a)(2) of the Commission’s rules already requires intermediate providers within an interstate or intrastate call path that originate and/or terminate on the PSTN to pass unaltered to subsequent providers in the call path signaling information identifying the telephone number, or billing number, if different, of the calling party that is received with a call. In addition, section 64.2201(b) requires intermediate providers to return unaltered to providers in the call path any signaling information that indicates that the terminating provider is alerting the called party, such as by ringing. The FCC asks if any additional rules are necessary to prevent intermediate providers from manipulating signaling information for calls destined for rural areas?
  3. The FCC asks whether it should require intermediate providers to temporarily or permanently remove an intermediate provider who fails to perform at an acceptable service level from the routing path, as it required for covered providers and whether it should require intermediate providers to take reasonable steps to limit the number of intermediate providers after them in the call chain?
  4. The FCC proposes to require intermediate providers to have processes in place to monitor their own rural call completion performance when transmitting covered voice communications.
  5. The FCC asks if it should adopt duties to complete calls for intermediate carriers like those that already apply to covered providers under prior Commission rules and orders?
  6. The FCC asks if it should require intermediate providers to meet or exceed one or more numeric rural call completion performance targets or thresholds while giving them flexibility in how to meet this requirement? If so, what metric(s) should be utilized and what target(s) or threshold(s) should be set?
  7. The FCC seeks comment on whether intermediate providers should be required to certify that they do not transmit covered voice communications to other intermediate providers that are not registered with the Commission.
  8. The FCC asks whether specific service quality measures for intermediate provider should be adopted. The FCC states that following adoption of rules implementing the RCC Act, covered providers who qualify for the safe harbor provisions will also be exempt from the service quality requirements of the RCC Act.
  9. The FCC asks whether an intermediate provider’s failure to comply with the quality standards or to fully and accurately register should result in removal from the registry, thereby preventing covered providers from using that intermediate provider?

Comments are due by June 4, 2018 and reply comments are due by June 19, 2018. To comment, visit FCC.

 

Contributed by Mary Sisak, Blooston Law Firm, TMA Counsel

Follow-Up Report: FCC Seeks Comments on Overturning of Copper Retirement Notice Requirements and Other Consumer Protections

As previously reported, on November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted an Order rolling back consumer protections in connection with the retirement of copper lines and the discontinuance of traditional telephone services. The FCC took this action even though the alarm industry, consumer advocates and members of Congress objected that the actions could lead to consumers losing their telephone service and could adversely impact alarm service.

This article provides a more detailed analysis of the Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) adopted by the FCC overturning a number of protections previously adopted for consumers and competitors in connection with copper retirement and the discontinuance of telecommunications service. The FCC’s Order is the culmination of the Technology Transitions Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Notice of Inquiry (NOI), and Request for Comment (NPRM/NOI), in which the FCC outlined proposed changes to its rules ostensibly “to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.”

In the Order, the FCC eliminates the requirement that retail customers must be notified before their copper facilities are retired. The FCC eliminates the customer notification requirement even though AICC, many consumer advocates, state commissions and a number of U.S. Senators urged the FCC to maintain a notice requirement to protect consumers from potential confusion and the suspension or termination of their service. The Order limits a notice requirement to telephone exchange service providers that directly interconnect with the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) network and reduces the amount of notice to 90 days after the FCC issues a public notice of the planned copper retirement.

The Order also eliminates the rule prohibiting ILECs from discussing planned network changes in advance of public notice. In an ex parte letter, AICC argued against this action because it would frustrate the nondiscrimination provisions of Section 275 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and would have a negative impact on competition in the alarm industry. Section 275 requires ILECs to “provide nonaffiliated entities, upon reasonable request, with the network services it provides to its own alarm monitoring operations, on nondiscriminatory terms and conditions,” among other things. By prohibiting ILECs from disclosing information about network changes ahead of public notice, the FCC’s non-eliminated rule, Section 51.325(c), supported Section 275’s goal of ensuring that all alarm providers – affiliated or not – would have an equal opportunity when it came to utilization of ILEC network services. AICC stated that the absence of Section 51.325(c) may be interpreted as permission for ILECs to give their alarm service affiliates a clear competitive advantage over non-affiliates by providing advance notice of network changes. AICC argued that, in order to meaningfully preserve the level playing field that Section 275’s nondiscrimination requirement creates, unaffiliated alarm companies should be accorded the same access to information as affiliates, and the Commission should not permit ILECs to choose who receives information about network changes and who does not in advance of public notice.

The Order eliminates the “functionality test” standard for determining whether an ILEC must obtain section 214 authority to discontinue a service. Among other things, the functionality test required an ILEC to ensure that third-party devices, including alarm systems, would continue to work on a service intended to replace existing services. Instead the FCC only will require the new service to meet the carrier’s description of the service being terminated in its tariff—or customer service agreement in the absence of a tariff.

In its ex parte letter, AICC argued that the Commission’s decision to reverse the “functional test” is not in the public interest because alarm customers rely on their alarm equipment and services to protect their lives and their property and, therefore, before a service is discontinued there must be a service that continues to be compatible with alarm equipment and service. The FCC, however, has now found that “service providers do not bear the burden of ensuring compatibility with third-party devices.” According to the FCC, “carriers cannot know all of the myriad ways in which their services are used by customers, and it would be impracticable to require them to account for all these many uses in deciding whether a planned discontinuance triggers a requirement to file an application with the Commission. Carriers have no means of knowing what devices their customers are using and therefore cannot be expected to account for their proper functioning.” The FCC also found that it “makes more sense from a cost and efficiency perspective to require third-party manufacturers of ancillary devices— as opposed to telecommunications carriers —to bear the cost of ensuring compatibility. As the manufacturers of such devices— and the parties who know their operation and uses first-hand—these companies are in the best position to adapt such devices to changes in the underlying telecommunications service for the least cost and with the smallest disruption to consumers.”

The FCC also streamlines the discontinuance application process for carriers seeking to grandfather any voice and data services at speeds below 1.544 Mbps and the discontinuance process for applications seeking authorization to discontinue legacy data services that have previously been grandfathered for a period of at least 180 days; the FCC adopts new streamlined processing rules for applications to discontinue low -speed legacy services having no customers for the prior 30-day period; and the FCC finds that a carrier need not seek approval from the Commission to discontinue, reduce, or impair a service pursuant to section 214(a) of the Act when a change in service directly affects only carrier-customers.

In the FNPRM, the FCC seeks comment on a number of issues including whether a single interconnected VoIP service (without any service quality or other requirements) should enable streamlined discontinuance of legacy voice service. It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should streamline discontinuances for higher-speed data services.

Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on “Verizon’s proposal that the Commission streamline processing of section 214(a) discontinuance applications for legacy voice services where a carrier certifies: (1) that it provides interconnected VoIP service throughout the affected service area; and (2) that at least one other alternative voice service is available in the affected service area.” According to Verizon “adoption of this streamlined test ‘would compel carriers to maintain legacy services only in those rare instances . . . where their absence would cut consumers off from the nation’s telephone network’ and would ‘free[] carriers to focus on rolling out and improving the next -generation technologies their customers demand.’” The FCC seeks comment on the benefits and burdens of streamlining section 214(a) discontinuances for legacy voice services and on the benefits and burdens of Verizon’s specific recommendation.

In the FNPRM, the FCC also:

  1. Proposes to streamline the approval process for applications seeking to grandfather data services with download/upload speeds of less than 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, so long as the applying carrier provides data services of equivalent quality at speeds of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps or higher throughout the affected service area.
  2. Proposes a uniform reduced public comment period of 10 days and an auto-grant period of 25 days for all carriers submitting such applications. Under this proposal, such services must be grandfathered for a period of no less than 180 days before a carrier may submit an application to the Commission seeking authorization to discontinue such services.
  3. Seeks comment on AT&T’s proposal that the FCC eliminate the requirement that incumbent LECs provide public notice of network changes affecting the interoperability of customer premises equipment.

Comments on the FNPRM are due by January 17, 2018. Reply comments are due by February 16, 2018.

Thanks to Mary Sisak, attorney at Blooston, Mordkofsky, Dickens, Duffy & Prendergast, LLP, for this report. 

FCC Overturns Copper Retirement Notice Requirements and Other Consumer Protections

On November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted an Order rolling back consumer protections in connection with the retirement of copper lines and the discontinuance of traditional telephone services. The FCC took this action even though the alarm industry, consumer advocates and members of Congress objected that the actions could lead to consumers losing their telephone service and could adversely impact alarm service.

The FCC’s Order:

  • eliminates notice to customers when copper facilities will be retired;
  • allows local exchange carriers (LECs), apparently, to notify some customers of upcoming network changes and copper retirements;
  • reduces the notice that must be provided to interconnecting carriers;
  • allows LECs to discontinue low speed services on an expedited basis;
  • appears to allow LECs to discontinue service even if there is not a replacement service that is as good as the discontinued service.

The FCC also adopted a Further Notice seeking comment on whether a single interconnected VoIP service (without any service quality or other requirements) should enable streamlined discontinuance of legacy voice service. It also seeks comment on whether the FCC should streamline discontinuances for higher-speed data services.

As TMA’s Alarm Industry Communications Committee reviews the Order, TMA members should record and report to TMA (communications@tma.us) if they have experienced an increase in the number of alarm signals that do not go through; the area where there are problems; the cause of the problem; and, if known, whether there is a copper retirement in the area where it occurs.

A more detailed analysis of the Order and Further Notice will be provided soon.

FCC Adopts NPRM, NOI, and Request for Comment on Copper Retirement, Section 214 Discontinuance and State Law Preemption

The FCC has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Notice of Inquiry (NOI), and Request for Comment outlining proposed changes to current rules regarding copper retirement and the discontinuance of telecommunications service and seeking comment on the preemption of state laws governing the maintenance or retirement of copper facilities “to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.”

The FCC’s NOI addresses state laws inhibiting broadband deployment.  Comments on the NOI are due June 12 and reply comments are due July 10. 

In the NOI, the FCC seeks comment on  adopting rules that would help decrease State-sponsored impediments to broadband deployment. Most importantly for the alarm  industry, the FCC seeks comment on “whether there are state laws governing the maintenance or retirement of copper facilities that serve as a barrier to deploying next-generation technologies and services that the Commission might seek to preempt.”  As examples of rules that may be barriers to deploying next-generation technologies the FCC states that “certain states require utilities or specific carriers to maintain adequate equipment and facilities” and others “empower public utilities commissions, either acting on their own authority or in response to a complaint,  to require utilities or specific carriers to maintain, repair, or improve facilities or equipment or to have in place a written preventative maintenance program.”  The  FCC seeks comment on:

  • The impact of state legacy service quality and copper facilities maintenance regulations.
  • The impact of state laws restricting the retirement of copper facilities.
  • Whether Section 253 of the Act provides the FCC with authority to preempt state laws and regulations governing service quality, facilities maintenance, or copper retirement that are impeding fiber deployment, including whether such laws have the effect of prohibiting the ability of incumbent LECs to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service and whether such laws are not competitively neutral or not necessary to preserve and advance universal service, protect the public safety and welfare, ensure the continued quality of telecommunications services, and safeguard the rights of consumers.

The FCC also asks for comment on:

  • Eliminating excessive delays in negotiations and approvals for rights-of-way agreements and permitting for telecommunications services.
  • Prohibiting excessive fees and other costs that may have the effect of prohibiting the provision of telecommunications service.
  • Prohibiting unreasonable conditions or requirements in the context of granting access to rights-of-way, permitting, construction, or licensure related to the provision of telecommunications services.

In the NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on proposed changes to the copper retirement and  Section 214 rules to discontinue services.  The comment dates for the issues raised in the NPRM have not been established.

The FCC proposes a number of revisions to the Part 51 network change disclosure rules and the rules applicable to copper retirement.  Under one proposal, the FCC would repeal Section 51.332 of the rules and return to the prior short-term network change notification rules for copper retirement.  Under this proposal,  an incumbent LEC would be allowed to retire copper facilities 90 days after FCC issuance of a public notice and without providing direct notice to retail customers.

Under a second proposal, the FCC would eliminate all differences between copper retirement and other network change notice requirements, rendering copper retirement changes subject to the same long-term or, where applicable, short-term network change notice requirements as all other types of network changes subject to Section 251(c)(5).  Under this proposal, an incumbent LEC would be allowed to retire copper facilities 10 days after FCC issuance of a public notice and without providing direct notice to retail customers.

Under a third proposal, the FCC would “retain but amend Section 51.332 to streamline the process, provide greater flexibility, and reduce burdensome requirements for incumbent LEC copper retirements.”  Among other things, the FCC seeks comment on whether the rule should be changed to require an incumbent LEC to serve notice only to telephone exchange service providers that directly interconnect with the incumbent LEC’s network and not retail customers and reduce the waiting period to 90 days from 180 days after the FCC releases its public notice before the planned copper retirement can be implemented.

Similarly, the NPRM proposes a number of measures to shorten timeframes and eliminate protections when an incumbent LEC seeks to discontinue the provision of a telecommunications service pursuant to Section 214 of the Act.  Specifically, the FCC seeks comment on:

  • Reducing the Section 214(a) discontinuance process for applications that seek authorization to stop accepting new customers for the service while maintaining service to existing customers (a.k.a. “grandfathering”) to 10 days.
  • Changing the list of eligible services for grandfathering.
  • Adopting a streamlined uniform comment period of 10 days and an auto-grant period of 31 days for both dominant and non-dominant carriers for discontinuance of services that have been grandfathered for at least 180 days.
  • Whether the FCC should conclude that Section 214(a) discontinuances will not adversely affect the present or future public conveniences and necessity, provided that fiber, IP-based, or wireless services are available to the affected community and what types of fiber, IP-based or wireless services would constitute acceptable alternatives.

Read more and submit comments.

Act by August 1: Annual AICC Communications Survey

AICC Chair Louis T. Fiore has issued a call for participation in the annual AICC Communications Survey. The results of the survey assist the AICC in planning messaging and strategy for legislative efforts involving Congress and the FCC.

This survey, now in its fifth year, focuses on the percentages of monitored accounts using POTS (plain old telephone systems), VoIP digital dialers (DACT), or other technologies either as a sole method of transmission or in conjunction with another technology. The ten-question survey will take no more than a few minutes to complete.

Survey participation is not limited to AICC or CSAA members. Industry-wide input will strengthen the findings. Input is anonymous and individual answers will be kept confidential.

Results will be presented at the September 2016 AICC meeting.

AICC: Wireless Disaster Resilience and Information Sharing Proposal

AICCLogofullcolorWireless Industry Seeks to Avoid Unwanted Regulation Following System Failures after Superstorm Sandy

On April 28, the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on the ex parte presentation made by wireless providers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon, together with CTIA, in which they announce a “Wireless Resiliency Cooperative Framework” described as “a voluntary initiative that will enhance coordination and communication to advance wireless service continuity and information sharing during and after emergencies and disasters.”

In the letter, the carriers detail a five-pronged approach to enhance industry coordination to “facilitate greater network resiliency and faster restoration of service” which they assert will “obviate the need for legislative action or inflexible rules that could have unintended consequences.”  Specifically, the five prongs include: (1) providing for reasonable roaming under disaster arrangements when technically feasible; (2) fostering mutual aid during emergencies; (3) enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration; (4) increasing consumer readiness and preparation; and (5) improving public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status.  Under each prong, the carriers provide specific actions that they will undertake designed to “enhance coordination among wireless carriers and all key stakeholders, improving information sharing and making wireless network resiliency more robust.”

The Disaster Resilience Proposal is clearly an effort by the wireless industry to avoid unwanted regulation in the wake of notorious system failures after Superstorm Sandy and other recent disasters. Since many alarm companies rely on the existing cellular network for customer premise alarm radios, as well as communications with field personnel, this matter is of obvious interest to the alarm industry. Since the FCC is fond of adopting “industry consensus” proposals on thorny issues that draw a lot of public complaint (such as network outages), AICC and alarm providers should review the proposed approach to see if it is something that they can live with (or if it instead ignores the need for protecting and rapidly restoring wireless alarm operations).

Opposition comments, or suggestions on how to remedy any shortfalls in the industry proposal, can be submitted to the FCC. AICC is planning on providing feedback on this matter to the FCC by the end of June.  Please contact CSAA Counsel John Prendergast at jap@bloostonlaw.com if you have any concerns to include in such comments.