Jonathan Spalter

lllegal Robocalls Are No Laughing Matter

We work on robocalls at USTelecom and most days there isn’t anything to laugh about.

As John Oliver’s seriously funny/not funny robocall segment this weekend made crystal clear, in addition to being supremely annoying, these calls scam consumers, spoof legitimate phone numbers, and are, for the most part, flat out illegal.

Stopping the plague of illegal robocalls is a serious issue for our USTelecom member companies, our industry partners, our customers, and folks at the FCC, FTC, and state Attorneys General offices who are investing time and resources to fight back.

So we thought you would want to know what we’re doing to stop illegal robocalls:

Hunting Down Illegal Robocallers

  • USTelecom leads the 25+ member Industry Traceback Group (ITB Group) that includes cable, wireline, wireless and transit providers — both from the US and abroad.
  • By sharing information on illegal robocalls, the ITB Group actively hunts down the perpetrators, no matter where they are hiding – even if they are overseas.
  • We share this information with law enforcement so they can bring illegal robocallers to justice.
  • And we’re succeeding in finding more bad actors faster than ever before, and helping to bring them to justice.  Last year, the FCC said the efforts of the ITB Group reduced the amount of time necessary to conduct a traceback investigation from start to finish “from months to weeks.”

Deployment of Call Authentication Standard SHAKEN STIR

  • A broad range of voice providers are already deploying a new caller authentication standard across their networks called SHAKEN STIR to restore trust to the caller-ID system.
  • When SHAKEN STIR is fully implemented, consumers will have more useful information available to them when they to decide whether (or not) to answer a call.
  • long list of companies have publicly committed to deploy the standard in their networks this year.
  • And while these companies compete vigorously in the marketplace, they’re working together to guide the deployment of the SHAKEN STIR standard.

Blocking Illegal Calls and Deploying Consumer Protection Tools

  • USTelecom members are deploying powerful tools that block and label illegal calls and put consumers in control of their phones again. Consumers today have more choices than ever before. There has been a 495 percent increase in the number of available call blocking apps between 2016 and 2018.
  • AT&T, Verizon, and other USTelecom members have partnered with services that protect consumers from robocalls (and these services work across wireless, IP and traditional copper networks).

Government is Stepping-Up

  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has identified robocalls as his No. 1 consumer issue. Under his leadership, the FCC is exploring the expanded ability of voice providers to block calls, has championed the deployment of SHAKEN STIR, and is developing a sophisticated database to reduce such calls.
  • Again and again, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has also issued substantial fines against illegal robocallers.
  • The FTC is another cop on the beat that is aggressively targeting illegal robocallers with significant fines and enforcement actions, and doing the equally important work of educating consumers.
  • Congress is concerned too and moving legislation that would – among other things – increase federal coordination on robocalls, and advance the deployment of the SHAKEN STIR standards.

Our list is long, our challenges significant, and much work remains to be done. There is no silver bullet, unfortunately. The bottom line: with industry innovators and government joining forces, our civil and criminal enforcement apparatus ramping up, and media taking notice, expect more steady progress against robocallers in the months ahead.