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FCC wants to cut robocalls from smaller operators


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FCC wants to cut robocalls from smaller operators

The Federal Communications Commission has long battled the issue of robocalling, requiring major voice service providers to help stop the problem and limiting the number of allowed telemarketing calls.

Yet the issue has continued as bad actors harass millions of Americans with unwanted calls, ranging from health-related scams to fake banks offering credit card interest rate discounts.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC's acting chairwoman, will discuss a new proposal May 20 that would accelerate the date that certain small voice service providers must implement the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication technology by one year. Specifically, the proposal would target only those small voice providers originating a large quantity of robocalls.

The FCC previously gave all small providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines until June 30, 2023, to implement STIR/SHAKEN — an extension that was seen as important as it would allow small operators more time to digest the high implementation costs and also, limited STIR/SHAKEN vendor offerings were available to those smaller operators at the time. But new evidence suggests that a subset of small voice service providers are originating "a large and increasing quantity of illegal robocalls," according to FCC officials.

The proposal, if approved, would add to other efforts initiated by Rosenworcel as part of her anti-robocall agenda that kicked off in March. The FCC imposed a $225 million fine on Texas telemarketers for illegally spoofing roughly 1 billion robocalls, the agency delivered cease-and-desist letters to six voice providers that have consistently violated FCC guidelines on the use of autodialed and prerecorded voice message calls.

Despite these efforts, the robocall problem is not expected to go away any time soon.

First off, major major telecom providers have been slow to adopt robocall mitigation tactics, said Tom Wheeler, chair of the FCC from 2013 to 2017 under former President Barack Obama. While he was head of the FCC, Wheeler asked the industry to develop a plan to help block robocalls, but he said little action was taken.

"They've been on notice for five years," Wheeler said. "The industry has had plenty of time. The technology is in place, now step up and enforce it and make things happen rather than accepting excuses that you need more time."

And although the Biden administration is in favor of regulation that would help quell robocalls, Rosenworcel could face pushback from Republicans on the commission "who can determine how far she can go," said Wheeler, a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution. The five-seat commission has a vacant seat, giving the agency a 2-2 partisan split.

Meanwhile, attacking the problem is like playing a game of "whack a mole and we have lots of motivated moles," said Alex Quilici, CEO of YouMail, a robocall blocking app.

The technology makes it extremely easy and cheap for bad actors to make robocalls to very large audiences very quickly, Quilici said. "For under $1,000, I can call everybody in Chicago," he said.

According to YouMail, Americans received more than 4.4 billion robocalls in April, a 10.3% decrease in volume over March, the first decrease in monthly volumes since November 2020.

Quilici attributes the decline to lockdowns in various regions of India, where COVID-19 is surging. The closures have led to reduced call center capacity, he said.

Quilici foresees the robocall problem continuing but with more targeted scams as opposed to mass-calling campaigns.

"They will just find a different road," he said.


May 18 The Senate Subcommittee on Cybersecurity will hold a hearing at 2:30 p.m. that examines the cybersecurity of the Defense Industrial Base.
May 18 The House Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. titled "The Need for Universal Broadband: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic."
May 20

The Federal Communications Commission will hold its open meeting at 10:30 a.m.

Industry, legal and think tank events
May 18

AT&T will hold a policy forum from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. titled "Semiconductor Supply Challenges: How did we get here? What's next? Why does it matter?"

May 19 The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council will host an event titled "The Future of Procurement at Department of State."
May 21 The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a virtual webinar from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. titled "Antitrust Paradigm Shift" as part of the group's Dynamic Antitrust Discussion Series.

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