FCC investigates New Hampshire Primary Robocalls

ALERT_FCC Enforcement Monitor_February 2024

FCC Enforcement Monitor 

February 2024 

By Scott R. Flick, Elizabeth E. Craig, and Adam J. Sandler


Pillsbury’s communications lawyers have published FCC Enforcement Monitor monthly since  1999 to inform our clients of notable FCC enforcement actions against FCC license holders and others. This month’s issue includes: 

  • New Hampshire Presidential Primary Deepfake Robocalls Lead to Enforcement Action Against Call Originator 
  • TV Broadcaster Faces $720,000 Fine for Failure to Negotiate Retransmission Consent in Good Faith 
  • Statutory Maximum Penalty of $2,391,097 Proposed for Pirate Radio Operator 

Telecommunications Company Accused of Originating Illegal Robocalls That Used President Biden’s Voice A Michigan-based telecommunications company received a Notice of Suspected Illegal Traffic (“Notice”) from the  FCC’s Enforcement Bureau accusing it of originating illegal robocall traffic related to the New Hampshire Presidential  Primary election. 

Two days before voting began in the Primary, New Hampshire residents believed to be potential Democratic voters  began receiving calls purportedly from President Joe Biden telling them to “save” their vote for the November general  election and not vote in the Primary. The caller ID information indicated the call came from the spouse of a former state  Democratic Party chair who was running a super PAC urging state Democrats to write in President Biden’s name in the  Primary. The call was not authorized by President Biden or his campaign or an authorized committee, nor did it include  a legitimate message from the president but instead was a so-called deepfake using the President’s voice. The caller ID  information was spoofed.  

Following widespread news reporting of the calls, the FCC investigated the matter together with the New Hampshire  Attorney General, the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force and USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group  (“ITG”). This group determined that the telecommunications company was the originating provider of the robocalls  at issue, and the ITG provided identifying call data to the company for the suspect calls. In response, the company  identified another entity as the party that initiated the calls and told the ITG that it had warned the initiating entity as to the illegality of the calls. According to the Notice, both the company and the apparent initiating entity have been  previous subjects of illegal robocall investigations. 

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FCC Enforcement Monitor p. 2

It is illegal under federal law to “knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with  the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value” and the law requires originating providers  to protect their networks by taking “affirmative, effective measures to prevent new and renewing customers from using  its network to originate illegal calls, including knowing its customers and exercising due diligence in ensuring that its  services are not used to originate illegal traffic.” Failure by a provider to protect its network can lead to downstream  providers permanently blocking all of the upstream provider’s traffic. In this case, the FCC believed the caller knowingly  transmitted misleading and inaccurate caller ID information to deceive and confuse call recipients and apparently  intended to harm prospective voters by using the President’s voice to tell them to not participate in the Primary.  The company also signed the calls with A-Level Attestation, an authentication designation that signals to downstream  providers that the company has a direct relationship with the customer and that the customer legitimately controls the phone number in the caller ID field. 

Transmittal of the Notice triggered several obligations for the company, including that it investigate the illegal traffic  identified by the FCC and block or cease accepting all of the illegal traffic within 14 days of the Notice if the company’s  investigation determines that it was part of the call chain for the identified traffic or substantially similar traffic. Failure to respond to the Notice or to comply with additional obligations could result in temporary or permanent blocking of all traffic from the company, removal of the company from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which would  cause all intermediate and terminating providers to immediately cease accepting the company’s telephone traffic and more. The FCC also issued a Public Notice notifying all U.S.-based voice service providers of the suspected illegal  traffic coming from the company and authorizing the providers, at their discretion, to block or cease accepting traffic  from the company without liability under the Communications Act of 1934 if the company failed to effectively mitigate  the illegal calls. 

According to the FCC, voice service providers at all levels of the call chain should take note of this and other recent  robocall enforcement actions, continuously monitor their networks for suspicious activity, and take action to prevent  such activity whenever it is found.


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