The FCC issued a $40 million fine against T-Mobile for providing “false ring tones” on millions of calls. These involved calls directed to rural areas, in which the call was not actually offered to the called party, but rather the caller was provided a fake ring tone in order to mislead the caller into thinking the call was being offered and that the called party was not there to answer the call. “False ring tones also create a misleading impression that a caller's service provider is not responsible if the call fails,” stated the FCC.
The provision of accurate signaling information is important so that the caller knows the actual status of the call. False ring tones purposely misleads the caller as to what is actually occurring on the call. This situation is analogous to a problem identified by PACE with respect to carriers blocking unwanted or illegal robocalls. The FCC has authorized carriers to block such illegal robocalls to a called party as one approach for addressing this scourge of nuisance robocall, provided that the called party has opted into such a service. Carriers and others have recognized that occasional mistakes will occur by erroneously blocking wanted or legitimate calls. When a call is blocked, it is equally important to provide an accurate status indication to the calling party. Today, some carriers provide a “fake busy” indication to the calling party when blocking a call, suggesting the calling party is busy on another call and that a reattempt should be made later. We surmise that the FCC would consider a “fake busy” to be just as deceptive as a “false ring tone.” PACE has been advocating an explicit per-call blocking indication, such as in the form of an audio intercept message, which is played to the calling party. The message could stay, for example, “The number you are calling from has been blocked by this carrier. Please contact [the carrier's] Customer Service at 800-xxx-yyyy for more information.” This type of explicit indication clearly indicates the status of the call. No one could accuse the calling party of being deceived as to the treatment of the call with this message.
Illegal robocalls are a scourge that diminishes the public's trust of the telephone network and a variety of tools are needed to address this growing problem. Call blocking is one such tool, and it is recognized that is it not perfect. In light of this, industry should define an explicit per-call blocking indication to clearly indicate to the caller when a call is blocked and provide further tools allowing the caller to correct when a mistake occurs.
Note – the opinions above are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Noble Systems or PACE.