The Federal Communications Commission today released a plan to force cellphone carriers to block a wide range of illegal text messages.
“In this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), we propose to require mobile wireless service providers to block illegal text messages, building on our ongoing work to stop illegal and unwanted robocalls” , says the FCC order. “Specifically, we are proposing to require mobile wireless service providers to block text messages, at the network level, that claim to be from invalid, unassigned, or unused numbers, and numbers on a Do-Not list. -Original (DNO)”. These texts “are very likely to be illegal,” the FCC said.
The NPRM is seeking public comment on the plan. Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, there will be 30 days for comments and an additional 15 days for responding comments. After that, the FCC can draft new requirements for wireless carriers and hold a final vote.
“The American people are fed up with fraudulent texts, and we need to use every tool at our disposal to address it,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “Recently, fraudulent text messaging has become a growing threat to consumers’ wallets and privacy. More can be done to address this growing problem and today we are officially launching an effort to take a serious, comprehensive, and fresh look at on our policies against unwanted robottexts.”
In addition to seeking comments on the proposed rules, the FCC order seeks more general comments on the problem of spoofed text messages. “We also seek feedback on the extent to which spoofing is a problem with text messaging today and whether there are any steps the Commission can take to encourage providers to identify and block texts that appear to be from forged numbers,” the FCC said.
The FCC also asked for comment “on the application of caller ID authentication standards to text messaging.” Caller ID authentication is already required for phone calls over Internet Protocol portions of voice networks.
Curious timing of voting for a year-old article
The timing of the NPRM’s publication is curious as the commissioners could have voted at any time over the past 11.5 months. The item was distributed by Rosenworcel to commissioners on October 18, 2021, according to the FCC’s list of circulating items.
When the FCC Chairman circulates an article, commissioners can vote whenever they are ready. The NPRM, “Targeting and Elimination of Illegal Text Messages,” was the oldest in the list of broadcast items.
A report by Axios today said the vote finally ended shortly after a reporter asked why it was taking so long. “The Federal Communications Commission approved a long-delayed proposal to crack down on spam Friday night after Axios asked agency members why it hadn’t moved on the issue,” the article said, noting that she “has been waiting for a vote at the FCC for almost a year.”
The NPRM spam text was approved on Friday and made public today. The vote would have been 4-0, meaning both Democrats and Republicans approved.
We asked the Rosenworcel office and the other commissioners today for details of when each member voted. Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks “voted on this well before Friday,” Starks’ office told Ars.
A spokesperson for Rosenworcel said the president’s office defers to the commissioners whether they wish to disclose the timing of their votes, but also said the robotext proposal received “strong support” from Rosenworcel since she proposed it.
Republican FCC Member Brendan Carr didn’t say when he voted, but he told Ars in an email, “This is a great article, and I hope the FCC passes a quick review. order on it. I can tell you I was not hanging around [my] feet on it.”
It is unclear when Republican Nathan Simington voted. We’ll update this article if we get any new information about the voting schedule. The FCC still lacks a Democratic majority due to Senate inaction on Biden nominee Gigi Sohn.
Robotexts a big and growing problem
Spam complaints are on the rise. The NPRM said the FCC “received approximately 14,000 consumer complaints about spam text messages, which represents an increase of nearly 146% over the number of complaints from the previous year.” Complaints rose to 15,300 in 2021 and 8,500 in the first six months of 2022.
“Spam text messages present the same problems as spam calls: they invade consumer privacy and are vectors for fraud and identity theft,” the FCC said.
Robocalls are still a bigger problem in terms of overall complaints, but the FCC noted that texting scams have additional harms not seen with robocalls. The NPRM describes how spammers use phishing and malware to defraud victims:
Texts may include links to well-designed phishing websites that look identical to a legitimate company’s website and trick a victim into providing personal or financial information. Text links can also load unwanted software, including malware that steals passwords and other credentials, onto a device. Fraudulent text messages, like scam calls, can involve illegal caller ID spoofing, that is, falsifying caller ID information that appears on the called party’s phone with intent to defraud, harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value. In 2020, scammers stole over $86 million through SMS fraud schemes. The median amount stolen from consumers in such scams was $800.
On July 28, the FCC issued a consumer alert about the increase in robotext scams. to defraud consumers.