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.

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Comments on “FCC Takes Another Baby Step Toward Addressing U.S. Robocall Hell”

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Anon says:


The POTS system should stop caller-id accepting calls from internet gateways that are not certified. If the gateway is not certified, the phone company should substitute the gateway IP for the alleged caller ID. If a foreign phone company will not participate in this certification, then remove all caller ID from that company and substitute with company name and “unknown”.

Certification for a gateway requires calls to be only from valid clients, or to collect IP of originating call, and use that for ID if not a client. Then proceed to block offending sources, such as VPN gateways that hide source.

there has to be a cost to connect to POTS.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Carlie Coats says:

telecom providers

Many of these calls are also violations of the Federal Do Not Call Act — but use the spoofed numbers to evade enforcement.
That Act should be amended as follows:

1) Penalties need to be adjusted for the inflation that has occurred
since the 1991 passage of the Act. I suggest they should be
adjusted for each interim year, and then annually, by the greater of the annual Consumer Price Index
inflation rate and the annual Producer Consumer Price Index
inflation rate.

Moreover, interest at a rate of 1% per month should be applied
to penalties, from the date of infraction to the date of payment.

2) Presently, the Act lists several “aggravating factors”, which
increase the statutory penalties from $500 to $1500. Even if
multiple aggravating factors are present, the penalty does not
increase beyond the $1000 penalty for a single aggravating factor,

Instead, the penalties should have a 19901_$ 1000.00 increment
for each aggravating factor — so that, for example, if three
aggravating factors are present, the statutory damages should be
1991_$ 3500.00 In particular, each request by the callee never to
be called again should be regarded as a separate aggravation, so in
the case of a caller having been told by the callee 100 times never
to call again, the damages should be 1991_$ 100,500.00.

3) Robo-calls are iespecially disruptive. The statutory
damage-increment for robo-calls should be 1991_$ 3000.00
instead of 1991_$ 1000.00. Moreover, the callee should
be reimbursed for attorney and court costs.

4) Spoofed-number calls are inherently deceptive, and should be
considered deliberately fraudulent. The statutory damage-increment
for spoofed-number calls should be 1991_$ 5000.00. Moreover, the
callee should be reimbursed for attorney and court costs.

5) As noted above, currently telecommunications vendors have no
incentive to cooperate with callees, making spoofed-number calls
almost impossible to track and penalize. Instead, they need an
incentive. Telecommunications vendors should be reimbursed by the
court at a rate of 3x their costs, for helping to establish the
identities of guilty parties. That way, helping to solve this
situation would be a profit-center instead of a loss-center for

Anonymous Coward says:

As a result of the robocalls, I no longer answer the phone unless the caller happens to be in my contact list. I don’t care who you are when it comes to that. I know how to ignore a call. Eventually they’ll figure it a dead line and stop calling.

Of course all the house members of congress can’t get through to beg for campaign contributions. They cut themselves a nice loophole with the Do Not Call program that allows them to call what they figure are guaranteed good phone numbers. That’s why they actually demanded and got the shaken and stirred implemented. The timing was spot on for the last president election.

What some of the scammers are doing now to get around the internet block, is to have a small company in the US that sells valid connections where shaken and stirred doesn’t recognize it as being from the internet and instead sees the number as valid, or so I’ve read sometime back.

While my way doesn’t work for businesses, it does work for me.

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