FCC to Propose Changes to VoIP Providers Direct Access to Numbers

By: Andrew Regitsky

In its upcoming meeting on August 5, 2021, the FCC is poised to introduce a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in Docket 13-97 in which it intends to modify its rules to better ensure that VoIP providers that have direct access to numbers “comply with existing legal obligations and do not facilitate illegal robocalls, pose national security risks, or evade or abuse intercarrier compensation requirements.”  The Commission is releasing the FNPRM to comply with the Federal TRACED Act, which requires it “to examine whether and how to modify its policies to reduce access to numbers by potential perpetrators of illegal robocalls.” 

In 2015, the FCC first began to allow interconnected VoIP providers to obtain numbers for customers directly from the Numbering Administrator, rather than relying on a carrier partner.  Based on our experience since that time, we propose to adopt clarifications and guardrails to safeguard the nation’s finite numbering resources, protect national security, reduce the opportunity for regulatory arbitrage, and further promote public safety.  Specifically, we propose revisions to our rules to better ensure that VoIP providers that obtain the benefit of direct access to numbers comply with existing legal obligations and do not facilitate illegal robocalls, pose national security risks, or evade or abuse intercarrier compensation requirements. (FCC Fact Sheet, Docket 13-97, released July 15, 2021).

Here is what the Commission will propose:

To require additional certifications as part of the direct access application process regarding, among other things, compliance with anti-robocalling obligations, and clarifying existing requirements.  Specifically, each direct access applicant will be required to certify that it will use numbering resources lawfully; will not encourage nor assist and facilitate illegal robocalls, illegal spoofing, or fraud; and will take reasonable steps to origination, termination, and/or transmission of illegal robocalls once discovered.  In addition, an applicant for direct access authorization must (1) certify that it has filed in the Robocall Mitigation Database and (2) to certify that it has either (A) fully implemented the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication protocols and framework or (B) that it has implemented either STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication or a robocall mitigation program for all calls for which it acts as a voice service provider.

To clarify that applicants for direct access authorization must disclose foreign ownership information and applications with 10 percent or greater foreign ownership will be referred to Executive Branch agencies for their views, consistent with similar referrals of other types of applications. 

To clarify that holders of a direct access authorization must update the FCC and applicable states within 30 days of any change to the ownership information submitted to the FCC. 

To clarify that FCC staff retains the authority to determine when to accept filings as complete and authority will be delegated to staff to reject an application if an applicant has engaged in behavior contrary to the public interest or has been found to originate or transmit illegal robocalls. 

To seek industry comments on whether to expand the direct access to the number authorization process to one-way VoIP providers or other entities that use numbers.  What are the potential benefits and risks of allowing one-way VoIP providers and other entities direct access to numbering resources?  Would enabling such entities to request and directly access numbering resources promote competition among providers and services?  What impact would enabling direct access to numbering resources for such entities have on number exhaust? 

To also seek comments on whether allowing other entities to access numbering resources directly could aid in enforcement efforts against illegal robocalling.

Finally, to ensure no access stimulation occurs, the Commission seeks comments on any changes it should make to its direct access authorization process.  It provides an example of a complaint in which one carrier inserted an interconnected VoIP provider “into the call path for the sole purpose of avoiding the financial obligations that accompany the Commission’s access stimulation rules.” To avoid a similar situation from occurring, the agency asks whether it should:

Require an applicant for direct access authorization to certify that it will not use its numbering resources to evade its access stimulation rules?

Or require an applicant for direct access authorization to consent to treatment as a local exchange carrier serving end users for purposes of the access stimulation rules? 

Or should the Commission instead require each applicant to certify that its traffic will be included in the call ratio calculations of any local exchange carrier it delivers traffic to for purposes of the access stimulation definition in section 61.3 of the Commission’ rules?

Should direct access to number applicants certify that the VoIP numbers they are applying for will only be used to provide interconnected VoIP services as opposed to for example, application-based services?

Industry comments are due 30 days after the FNPRM appears in the Federal Register.