Robocall crackdown, choked Lifelines, and pole-climbing: Your new FCC rules roundup

Fresh round of overhauls, and some aren't happy about it

US broadband watchdog the FCC signed off on a pile of new rules Thursday – including laws that will dictate how telcos handle robocalls, cut access for poor Americans to subsidized phone service, add controversial changes to TV station ownership rules, and regulations for fiber cable installation.

Under the new anti-robocall rules (PDF), carriers will be able to preemptively block calls that spoof numbers associated with the IRS or other tax groups. The FCC said the spoofing technique, where a scammer uses the number for IRS lines that can't actually dial outside numbers, are commonly used to disguise fraud operations.

By letting telcos identify and automatically block these lines, the FCC hopes it will shut down some robocall operations before they get off the ground. This may help curb the epidemic of scammers calling up pretending to be from America's tax services.

Lifeline, the FCC program that subsidizes the cost of phone service for low-income households, will see cuts (PDF) that have consumer advocates crying foul. Among the measures was a block on non-facilities-based carriers that resell services, a move that the FCC cites as a measure to cut waste and fraud, but opponents say will cut the availability of Lifeline service in the US by as much as 70 per cent and target tribal land areas in particular.

Also passed were a series of new rules designed to make it easier for telcos to install the fiber lines and radio towers for broadband internet service. The FCC says (PDF) it will change the rules on wire line access to let local carriers access poles owned by other companies and create a new 180 day 'shot clock' limit when a carrier tries to block another local carrier from moving its cables to install new lines.

Additionally, the commission has reduced (PDF) the government approval requirements to replace old utility poles and power masts with new structures that include wireless equipment.

Broadcasters, meanwhile, will get free rein (PDF) to snap up more local stations, thanks to the commission's decision to do away with requirements that had limited the number of stations and news publications one owner can hold in a single market.

The FCC Republicans, lead by Chairman Ajit Pai say the rules would 'modernize' outdated regulations that don't consider digital media. Opponents, including Democrat commissioner Mignon Clyburn, say the decision is a power-grab by big broadcasters with political motivations.

Other measures passed today deal with Ultra HD TV broadcasts (PDF) and reporting requirements (PDF) for cable TV providers. ®

PS: The FCC plans to vote in December to kill off America's net neutrality rules.

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