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FCC Chairman threatens “regulatory interventions” if carriers don’t fight robocalls.

We have all experienced those annoying telemarketing robocalls, selling us various things we don’t need and didn’t ask for. In my case, it’s at least every other phone call. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is also getting annoyed by this trend. As a result, he is pushing his agency to get more involved. Last week Chairman Pai reiterated demands that he made back in November that telephone providers must implement solutions to combat spoofed robocalls.  In a release posted to the FCC’s website, Chairman Pai stated that “American consumers are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls”, and that he is also in that group. The Chairman even went as far as to threaten “regulatory interventions” if phone providers don’t step up to the plate.

CURRENT SITUATION: ROBOCALLERS ARE WINNING

This is not the first time the federal government has gotten involved in combating the robocalling epidemic. For many years the Federal Trade Commission has had the National Do Not Call Registry. Phone numbers submitted to this list are not supposed to get unsolicited marketing phone calls. A means to report unwanted calls to the FTC is also provided by the Do Not Call Website. In 2010 Congress passed the Truth in Caller ID Act, signed by President Obama later that year. This makes it illegal to use Caller ID spoofing “to cause any caller identification service to knowingly transmit misleading or inaccurate caller identification information with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value….”. The bill was primarily enacted as a response to “swatting” incidents but, is applicable to marketing calls as well.

The government didn’t stop there, last May, the FCC levied its largest fine ever against an illegal spoofing operation. The fine of $120 Million was levied against Florida telemarketer Adrian Abramovich for making “almost 100 million” illegal calls. This is great news, but despite these, and many other government actions, robocalls continue to annoy millions every year. According to you YouMail, a service intended to mitigate robocalls, Americans received 4.9 billion of these calls in February 2019 alone. The problem is that it is still too easy to spoof Caller ID, and it is hard to catch the offenders. So, what can we do?

MITIGATING THE ROBOCALL PROBLEM

In recent years phone providers have been empowered to block or label calls they believe to be scams.  Some have already begun. On many cellular providers, calls that look like scams will pop up with scam likely. The FCC wants to take it a step further. They want to implement a standardized solution across all telephone providers. The proposed service based on a framework called SHAKEN/STIR , which would use the digital signing of Caller ID by the calls originating phone provider. This signature is then verified by the destination provider prior to routing the call to the customer. As a result, providers can block or at least notify when there is a mismatch.

Many providers in the industry have supported the Chairman’s request, and have already prepared to implement the solution. Others are moving at a more leisurely pace. This delay creates a problem, in that, for the system to work properly all the providers implement the framework. Perhaps Chairman Pai’s threats will get them moving. I’m sure the last thing these companies want is more regulation. If they don’t do this because of the FCC, they should do it for their customers. Those consumers who are “sick and tired of unwanted robocalls”. This is an issue I’m watching closely because I am one of those annoyed consumers

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