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Robocall Strike Force Advances Plans to Curb Robocalls
Depite efforts to educate consumers, Consumers Union and the FCC say the group's work is not done yet.
Posted Oct 28, 2016
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The Robocall Strike Force this week outlined several steps it is taking to limit unwanted robocalls and telemarketing calls, which are currently the number one source of consumer complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), but FCC commissioners and Consumers Union say the measures don't go far enough.

As part of the plan, the strike force—a collection of more than 30 phone hardware and software manufacturers and carriers, including AT&T, Apple, Google, Verizon, and Comcast—launched a FCC-hosted website to educate consumers about robocalls and provide call-blocking tips and resources.

The strike force accelerated the standards to verify and authenticate caller identification for calls carried over an Internet Protocol (IP) network. These standards, known as SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited), would make spoofing—a technique whereby they deliberately falsify the telephone number and/or name relayed to caller ID systems to trick consumers into answering the calls and to skirt a number of consumer protections already in place—harder and provide consumers with a greater degree of identification and control over the types of calls they receive.

The group also looked at several methods to stop unwanted calls from reaching customers by blocking them at the network level and launched a trial to block known numbers that should never originate traffic. The results of this trial will determine the viability of a Do Not Originate list of numbers to be blocked network wide.

Lastly, the group offered guidance about key terminology, the legal landscape, and overcoming regulatory roadblocks. It also developed recommendations for actions the FCC can take to support industry efforts to trace and block illegal robocalls.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the plan was "a good start" but falls short of what is needed. He stressed that the industry must take action soon and couldn't simply hand off the responsibility to trade groups and government regulators. Wheeler also said he would be asking individual companies for concrete deadlines and commitments and would call the group back together in six months for a progress report.

Other members of the FCC reiterated that the strike force still has much more work to do.

Members of Consumers Union agreed, saying the current plan seeks to phase in reforms in the next 20 months, but more action is needed to protect consumers now.

"This latest plan is half a loaf, if that," said Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst at Consumers Union, in a statement. "These efforts are aimed at getting better solutions in the future, but consumers need relief now. The phone companies should take immediate action by offering their customers the best call-blocking protection currently available."

U.S. consumers receive an average of 2.4 billion robocalls a month. Such calls generate hundreds of thousands of complaints to the FCC each year.

In letters sent to the major phone companies in July, Wheeler made clear that improving call-blocking technologies "should not come at the expense of offering robocall solutions now."

"The phone companies should get to work developing these new call-blocking technologies and let their customers know how soon they will be adopted," Mahoney said. "But consumers have waited long enough for action. It's time for the phone companies to start delivering real solutions."


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