FCC Order Would Reduce VoIP Provider Access to Telephone Numbers

By: Andy Regitsky

As we welcome Anna Gomez to the FCC as its fifth commissioner, we ought to be prepared for an avalanche of new regulations, including the return of net neutrality, additional control of broadband services and an increased focus on consumer protections.  While some additional rules may be justified, the fear here is that the newly partisan Commission may go overboard with two years of pent-up demand for action.  We will follow all the developments.

In the meantime, at its September 21, 2023, meeting, the agency is prepared to issue a non-partisan Second Report and Order (Order) and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) in Dockets 13-97 and 07-243 to reduce illegal robocalls by increasing control over VoIP provider access to telephone numbers.  The Commission is taking this action to comply with the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act as mandated by Congress.

In the Order, the FCC takes the following actions:

First, it will require applicants seeking direct access to numbering resources to make robocall-related certifications to help ensure compliance with its rules targeting illegal robocalls.  Applicants would have to certify that:

they will not use the numbers obtained pursuant to an interconnected VoIP provider numbering authorization to knowingly transmit, encourage, assist, or facilitate illegal robocalls, illegal spoofing, or fraud, in violation of robocall, spoofing, and deceptive telemarketing obligations under the Commission’s rules;

they have fully complied with all applicable STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication and robocall mitigation program requirements and filed certification in the Robocall Mitigation Database; and

neither the applicant nor any of its key personnel identified in the application are or have been subject to a Commission, law enforcement, or any regulatory agency investigation for failure to comply with any law, rule, or order, including the Commission’s rules applicable to unlawful robocalls or unlawful spoofing

Second, the agency will require applicants to disclose and keep current information about their ownership, including foreign ownership, to mitigate the risk of providing bad actors abroad with access to numbering resources;

Third, the Commission will require applicants to certify that they are in compliance with other FCC rules applicable to interconnected VoIP providers to bolster awareness and compliance with these rules;

Fourth, it will require applicants to comply with state laws and registration requirements that are applicable to businesses in each state in which numbers are requested;

 Fifth, the agency will require applicants to include a signed declaration that their applications are true and accurate;

Sixth, it will codify the Wireline Competition Bureau’s (Bureau) application review, application rejection, and authorization revocation processes.

In sum, the Commission tightens control over VoIP provider access to telephone numbers to

ensure that the Bureau receives sufficient detail from interconnected VoIP applicants to make informed, public-interest-driven decisions about their direct access applications and thereby protect the public from bad actors.  These new requirements will also increase our enforcement capabilities should we find that providers are skirting our rules.  Upon the effective date of these rules, we require explicit acknowledgment of compliance with all robocall regulations; implement disclosure and update requirements regarding ownership and control; require certification of compliance with other applicable Commission regulations and certain state law; and add a declaration requirement to hold applicants accountable for the truthfulness and accuracy of their direct access applications. (Draft Order at para. 12).

The Order would take effect 30 days after it appears in the Federal Register.

In the Notice, the FCC seeks industry comment to further increase its scrutiny over entities with access to numbers by proposing to:

require existing direct access authorization holders whose authorizations predate the new application requirements to submit the new certifications, acknowledgments, and disclosures adopted in the Second Report and Order;

require direct access applicants to disclose a list of states in which they seek to provide initial service; and

require number resellers with direct access authorizations to obtain the same direct access application certifications, acknowledgments, and disclosures from their indirect access recipient partners.

The comment date will be published once the Notice is released, on September 21, 2023, or soon afterward.