FCC Takes Another Baby Step Toward Addressing U.S. Robocall Hell
from the surely-THIS-announcement-will-fix-everything dept
Americans received 4.4 billion robocalls in June. It never quite stops being weird how we’ve had to effectively stop using a core voice communications platform because it’s been hijacked by scammers and debt collectors. As we’ve noted numerous times, there are several reasons why our nationwide robocall hell never quite seems to end despite new announcements promising to tackle the problem every 6 months:
- Robocallers use sophisticated number spoofing technologies and a rotating array of fake addresses, making tracking them difficult
- Government policy fixates on “scam” robocalls and not “legit” robocalls (despite the latter using many of the same tactics) due to marketing industry lobbying, resulting in loophole-filled rules.
- Government sucks at actually collecting fines when it does issue them.
- Government generally refuses to crack down on big telecom companies that turn a blind eye to numerous scams because it’s profitable to do so.
- A broken court system, beaten into dysfunction by corporate interests, keeps narrowing the authority of the FCC so it can’t act on all types of robocalls and spam texts.
- Telecom giants have been slow to implement anti-spoofing technologies
- the entire regulatory and corporate system places the onus entirely on consumers, requiring they opt in to systems and tools that fight robocalls.
- Scammers exploited loopholes in rules regarding VOIP and so-called smaller “gatekeeper” providers that bridge foreign and domestic calls.
So there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Every so often the government announces it’s taken a small step to target only a few of those reasons. Like last week, when the FCC stated that it closed a loophole many robocallers used to evade robocall blocking.
In 2001, the FCC required that voice providers had to implement SHAKEN/STIR, an anti-spoofing technology that prevents robocalls from faking their number of origin. Most big carriers say they implemented the protections last year, but the FCC left an exemption in the rules for smaller companies in a bid to protect small businesses, giving them until June 30, 2023.
Last year the FCC was forced to bump that deadline to this year, after numerous reports showed how Robocallers had been massively exploiting the loopholes and driving a lot of traffic through those smaller providers. As of late June, small and big providers alike now have to implement SHAKEN/STIR tech, something the FCC claims will finally deal a major blow to robocallers:
“Each time I get a robocall it reminds me that we can’t stop looking for ways to stop these nuisance calls and the scams behind them,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Our team is working to aggressively and creatively find ways to fight back. We will use every authority we have, and we will go to Congress for more. We will not let up.”
But again, the FCC’s ability to act is constrained by the courts, which are increasingly shifting toward a hardline, pro-corporate stance in which government regulators are hamstrung in the name of “freedom.” This will only further encourage regulators that aren’t willing to take significant action if the action impacts the marketing and larger telecom industry.
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) recently issued a report providing numerous examples of how the government could act to reclaim phone networks from marketers, political spammers, and outright scammers (and again, the lines between those three is usually very thin, if it exists at all). The study’s worth a read, but at the heart sits a lack of real accountability for large corporations:
Even when these providers are told—sometimes repeatedly—that they are transmitting fraudulent calls, they keep doing it, because they are making money from these calls. And even when they are caught and told to stop, they are not criminally prosecuted, and the fines that are levied are rarely collected.
That’s kind of a trend at the FCC, regardless of party (though it’s generally worse under Republicans). The agency will talk a good game about working in the consumers’ best interest, but then it will fail to show much of an enforcement backbone, especially when it comes to bigger companies. It’s why it’s 2022 and we still have an FCC that can’t even publicly admit that telecom monopolies are a significant reason for substandard U.S. broadband.