John Oliver Robocalls Ajit Pai For Not Doing More To Thwart Robocalls
from the ill-communication dept
Despite endless government initiatives and countless promises from the telecom sector, our national robocall hell continues. Robocalls from telemarketers continue to be the subject the FCC receives the most complaints about (200,000 complaints annually, making up 60% of all FCC complaints), and recent data from the Robocall Index indicates that the problem is only getting worse. Consumers continue to be hammered by mortgage interest rate scams, credit card scams, student loan scams, business loan scams, and IRS scams. 4.9 billion such calls were placed in February alone:
You might recall that HBO’s John Oliver caused Ajit Pai’s FCC no shortage of trouble when his coverage of net neutrality drove millions of pissed off consumers to the FCC website to complain. The FCC then got into a bit of hot water (and remains under investigation by the GAO and others) after falsely claiming those angry website visitors were part of a malicious DDOS attack. In reality, emails confirmed FCC staffers were simply trying to craft an alternative explanation to try and downplay massive public opposition to the Trump FCC’s policies.
Fast forward to last weekend, and Oliver again brought some much-needed attention to the FCC’s apathy, this time on the subject of robocalls. The whole missive is well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already:
Oliver’s bit (which involves robocalling all five FCC commissioners) does a stellar job highlighting that the previous FCC passed new rules to rein in the robocall threat. But those rules were struck down by the courts after a lawsuit by the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, a group representing debt collectors (Pai celebrated the ruling at the time). To be clear, Pai has done a few notable things to try and crack down on the problem, ranging from slightly expanding (pdf) carrier abilities to try and block the calls, to issuing major fines against particularly-obvious scammers.
But as Oliver notes, there’s a lot more Pai’s FCC could do, like demanding big carriers offer their customers free robocall protection services, actually punishing those lagging behind at adopting anti-spoofing authentication tech, and narrowing the definition of robocalls to include debt collection and other purportedly “legit” but overwhelming callers. But that would require Pai actually standing up to major industries, something he’s yet to do at any meaningful point during his appointment as FCC boss.
As it stands, predictions are that by next year, half of all calls made will be robocalls. And while companies like AT&T spent a few years trying to blame everybody else for its own failure to police the problem, it’s one of several carriers finally on the cusp of deploying SHAKEN/STIR authentication technology that should dramatically put a damper on caller ID spoofing later this year. But evolving scammer tactics and lagging carriers means that to solve this problem, the FCC will need somebody willing to actually punish companies that refuse to do more.