FCC Issues Call Blocking Prohibition Order

Regulation Watch

FCC Issues Call Blocking Prohibition Order

This article originally appeared in the July/August issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

On Feb. 6 the FCC’s (News - Alert) Wireline Competition Bureau released a declaratory ruling requiring originating carriers to police the actions of downstream providers that are blocking or otherwise restricting calls terminated by rate-of-return carriers serving rural areas. Noting the increased number of complaints lodged by rate-of-return carriers serving rural areas, the order reminds carriers of the commission’s prohibition on blocking, choking, reducing or otherwise restricting traffic, including VoIP traffic, and clarifies several statutory provisions that may be violated for those types of activities.

First, the order clarifies that a carrier “that knows or should know that calls are not being completed to certain areas, and that engages in acts (or omissions) that allow or effectively allow these conditions to persist, may be liable for a violation of section 201 of the Act.” A violation may be found if a carrier fails to correct the problem or fails to ensure that intermediate providers, least-cost routers, or other entities acting for the carrier are performing adequately. If a carrier continues to hand off calls to intermediate providers that a carrier knows are not completing a reasonable percentage of calls or are otherwise restricting traffic, that would be considered an unjust or unreasonable practice. The order also notes that carriers are responsible for the acts of their agents, and thus is responsible for agents engaging in unjust or unreasonable practices, such as blocking, choking, or otherwise restricting traffic.

A service provider engaged in these prohibited activities may be subject to an enforcement action, including cease-and-desist orders, forfeitures, and license revocations, which could include a forfeiture of up to $150,000 for each violation or each day of a continuing violation, up to a statutory maximum of $1,500,000 for a single act or failure to act.

 William B. Wilhelm (News - Alert) is a partner and Jeffrey R. Strenkowski is counsel at the global law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP (www.bingham.com).

Edited by Stefania Viscusi