Pai FCC 'Solution' To Nation's Great Robocall Apocalypse? More Meetings

from the nothing-to-see-here 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 April alone.

There's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to fixing the problem. The FCC, now little more than a rubber stamp for industry under Ajit Pai, has been lax in holding carrier feet to the fire. Carriers in turn have blamed everyone but themselves for their own lax response. Similarly, many carriers have been slow to offer customers free robocall blocking tech, and even slower in adopting call authentication technology (like SHAKEN/STIR), which would go a long way toward hampering the call spoofing at the heart of the problem. This John Oliver segment is worth a watch:

Enter FCC boss Ajit Pai, who has been increasingly under fire for not doing more to expedite solutions to our great, national robocall apocalypse. This week Pai proclaimed that he has "demanded" that carriers finally adopt call authentication technology this year, something that isn't much of a "demand" since most carriers have said they'd already planned to deploy the technology this year. His other solution popping up this week is being framed by media outlets fairly inaccurately as well. For example. Pai is allowed to insist via Reuters that carriers haven't deployed automatic call blocking technology because they didn't think the FCC would allow it:

"Pai said many service providers have held off developing and deploying default call-blocking tools because of uncertainty about whether the tools are legal under the FCC rules.

Allowing the default call-blocking could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of the tools, Pai said.

“By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” Pai said.

Pai's effectively trying to shift the focus away from a decade's worth of carrier failures and toward the idea that some legal confusion is the exclusive reason the industry has failed to police robocalls. But a few years ago, AT&T found itself under fire after Consumer Reports gathered a petition of 600,000 signatures demanding it do more to thwart robocalls. The company's response? To falsely blame the FCC, claiming the agency was prohibiting it from doing so. The former Wheeler FCC made it very clear in numerous letters that such tools were allowed under FCC rules.

To be clear, even clearer rules expressly permitting that carriers be allowed to implement robocall blocking tech that operates by default is all well and good. But Pai's announcement is framed in such a way to suggest that regulatory murk--not a decade of carrier apathy--is exclusively to blame for our collective robocall failures.

Pai's other primary solution for the robocall menace appears to be a new summit in July to discuss ongoing progress:

Of course in the US telecom market, a lack of competition and meaningful regulatory oversight means there's really very little penalty for lazy behavior, so "market based solutions" to problems like this are often slow to materialize if they materialize at all. Robocalls are a notable problem for Pai given they're the agency's top complaint, but actually doing something about it might need to involve actual market oversight and punishment, concepts that clash with Pai's dogmatic belief that the telecom sector can self regulate. Either way Pai's fellow Commissioners weren't particularly impressed, noting that the FCC needs fewer meetings and more concrete action:

And while Pai continues to promise he'll take "regulatory action" against carriers that drag their feet, there's some understandable skepticism on that front. After all, this is the same FCC head that just got done effectively neutering his own agency at telecom lobbyist request and routinely parrots telecom lobbyist data points with absolutely no skepticism. The sheer volume of consumer anger on this subject could push Pai out of his comfort zone, but given Pai's recent history as the poster child for regulatory capture, his willingness to actually stand up to industry giants is something that will need to be seen to be believed.

Filed Under: ajit pai, fcc, jessica rosenworcel, robocalls, shaken/stir


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  • icon
    Jeroen Hellingman (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 6:51am

    No problem in Europe

    Never received a robocall in Europe ever... evidence that something effective can be done about it fairly easily.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 15 May 2019 @ 6:54am

    It would be nice if carriers helped this situation, but it is difficult to hold them accountable for the actions of users of their networks.

    We don't hold Google responsible for spam in Gmail, but we appreciate getting filters. The filters are in response to competition. I would think if we could get more telecom competition that DID offer filtering, we would see carriers start to step up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 8:06am

      Re:

      That it's so simple to spoof a phone number for any call placed is a flaw in the current system employed in the US. The carriers are absolutely responsible for flaws in their system. When CallerID cannot be relied on to actually tell you the number of the caller, a service many still pay for as a surcharge on their phone bills, the feature is worthless at best and a carrier scam at worst.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 10:54am

        Re: Re:

        When CallerID cannot be relied on to actually tell you the number of the caller, a service many still pay for as a surcharge on their phone bills, the feature is worthless at best and a carrier scam at worst.

        What looks like a flaw to us is actually a feature. The telco (almost always) has the real originating number, and if you have a toll-free number you can access that data. They intentionally let PBXs spoof the separate caller ID number so, for example, you see your bank's main phone number rather than one for a specific desk in a specific call center. But obviously they should be checking whether that caller is authorized to spoof that specific number.

        The key management for SHAKEN/STIR looks excessively complicated. Regulators should've required the telcos to put this data under the e164.arpa domain and sign it with DNSSEC. (And to let end-users drop their own data there to provide alternate routings, links to messaging apps, etc.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 7:41am

      Re:

      "It would be nice if carriers helped this situation"

      They seem to be complicit in that looking the other way helps the bottom line.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 7:16am

    The easiest thing to do is not answer the phone if the person is not in your contact list. If they want to get ahold of you they can leave a message and you can call them back. That's really the only way to go. Of course, it doesn't work if it's your business line in which you're going to be mostly phone calls not in your contact list. You have to answer the phone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 8:05am

      Re:

      The easiest thing to do is not answer the phone if the person is not in your contact list. If they want to get ahold of you they can leave a message and you can call them back.

      And if they do the same............

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 10:19am

        Re: Re:

        They have been for some time. You call a business and what do you get ... a machine that asks a bunch of irrelevant questions and makes you wait before a real person answers.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 10:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          There is often little difference between the machine and the real person one gets. They read to you what the machine tells them to and use no cognitive determination until you demand a supervisor (when they answer the question to themselves 'should I or shouldn't I), who are few and far between and too busy to talk to you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      90% of the calls I receive are scams/spam. I already don't answer the phone if I don't recognize the caller but that doesn't solve the problem.

      I'd be happy with a new feature on my phone that allowed me to setup a specific ring tone for callers not in my contacts list. I could set those calls to not ring at all, preferably go directly to voicemail. Then the only calls I'd actually know about are from people I know and I don't have to keep silencing my phone at the office every day.

      The real solution is caller authentication.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 12:50pm

        Re: Re:

        If you have an Android phone you may be able to sand calls not from contacts straight to voice mail from system settings, If not, there are call blocker apps that can do it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 7:35am

    People complain too much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 7:51am

    I'm wondering...

    ...if Pai is stalling not because of money, but because his neutering of the FCC has some fine print that removes even THIS kind of authority from their purview.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 2:20pm

      Re: I'm wondering...

      That... strikes me as entirely possible actually. It could very well be that in his haste to hamstring the agency to ensure that it would be powerless to do anything regarding his past/future employers he made it such that 'pretty please maybe think about doing something about this?' is all that he can do, and he doesn't want to admit it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 5:09am

        Re: Re: I'm wondering...

        Exactly. And to come out and admit that "his" FCC no longer has the authority to do even this would convince the last six people in the US who don't believe he's bought and paid for.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anomalous Cowherd, 15 May 2019 @ 8:04am

    Fix it already

    The FCC should mandate a new vertical service code - like *91 or similar - which flags the caller as a do-not-call violator/scammer/spammer AND institutes a chargeback of, say, $0.01 to the originating number. Any intervening phone systems which do not properly track call origins would be left holding the bag for any and all chargebacks.

    On second thought, the chargeback should probably be $0.10. A hundred bucks per thousand ticked-off people is so much more satisfying than ten dollars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    FlatZOut (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 8:22am

    What Better Way to Stop Robo Calls?

    Wouldn’t it be useful if you robo-called the robo-caller and give them a taste of their own medicine?
    ...
    I’ve read several stories of this happening and it nearly worked 75% of the time. Though, now that I think about it, it’s probably a stupid statistic that does no benefit.
    ...
    This makes me wonder if this can be compared to the idea that they hire idiots to do the commercials in order to make simple tasks seem impossible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 8:25am

      Re: What Better Way to Stop Robo Calls?

      75% is a made-up stat. Almost all of the numbers you see on your phone when you get a robocall are fake; Spoofed. If you call those numbers back you'll get either no connection or some innocent person's or business's phone.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 9:13am

      Re: What Better Way to Stop Robo Calls?

      You run the risk of calling their toll number, which is what they wanted you to do.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 10:57am

      Re: What Better Way to Stop Robo Calls?

      Wouldn’t it be useful if you robo-called the robo-caller and give them a taste of their own medicine?

      Or, like one British person, make them pay for calling you by getting a premium-rate number.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DebbyS (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 9:10pm

      Re: What Better Way to Stop Robo Calls?

      I never call a scammer as I might wind up paying for the call (since they usually come on my landline). One thing I enjoy doing is watching scam baiting videos on YouTube. There are a growing number of folks fighting back and recording their conversations. These are turned into videos in a number of clever ways. They show how to waste scammer time, and time is all a scammer has to steal money. If they spend an hour or more with you, that is a lot of time they can't use lying to your grandma or elderly neighbor. Also some skilled hackers have actually penetrated scammer networks and done a lot of damage (and videotaped it). Still others gather information, including video of rooms full of scammers, and turn it over to the police, usually in India, and occasionally the police actually act on it (raiding and closing down operations). So since any plan Telcos come up with they will likely charge for (and it won't work), either get an answering machine (to receive valid robocalls) or do answer it with a plan once you have been prepared with examples from YouTube. Basically, don't give a scammer real information. Don't worry about lying to them, either, as "John Williams" with the heavy Hindu accent is most certainly lying to you in order to steal your $$$.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Improbus (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 8:58am

    Nothing Is Going To Change

    Nothing is going to change until the next election when the FCC can be packed with actual public servants instead of what they have now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 9:01am

    the man is nothing short of being a complete prick, doing whatever he can to ensure that companies taking consumers for a ride, whilst making a fortune doing so, get away with continuing to do whatever the hell they like! how does he get away with this continuous bullshit? isn't it illegal to keep allowing the people to be screwed and ripped off by companies that the FCC are supposed to be ensuring they behave? he needs prosecuting!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 11:50am

    only 1 eason to allow robocals.

    MONEY..
    most of the system is digital now, and tracing/tracking should be fairly easy...UNLESS they havnt upgraded/updated anything in the last 20 years..
    Which Would explain HOW they know that they CANT do it, or that upgrading the Fiber system is going to be a CAN OF WORMS..
    They made it..now FIX it..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 12:50pm

      Re: only 1 eason to allow robocals.

      20 years?

      MA BELL instituted ANI - Automatic Number Identification.

      The cops use it - that's why they say "and we don't have caller ID" in their snitch adverts.

      There's simply ZERO reason for an in-house PBX anymore, now that everything is digital and WILL hit VOIP at some point in the connection.

      Simply post the ANI to the CID and let phone company handle multi-line switching.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 2:06pm

        Re: Re: only 1 eason to allow robocals.

        The cops use [ANI] - that's why they say "and we don't have caller ID" in their snitch adverts.

        Do you have any evidence that a regular toll number can receive ANI, or that the cops do?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Bamboo Harvester (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 5:06am

          Re: Re: Re: only 1 eason to allow robocals.

          First hit on a search:

          "ANI (Automatic Number Identification) is a service that provides the receiver of a telephone call with the number of the calling phone. The method of providing this information is determined by the service provider (such as AT&T, MCI, Sprint, and so forth)."

          It's also used for 800 series number billings.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 2:44pm

        Re: Re: only 1 eason to allow robocals.

        Nice Idea, but ask 911 how they get our info..Most dont use Caller ID, which is F'ing stupid..

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 15 May 2019 @ 11:53am

    Hint: DIY

    All the bitching about it and people expecting the government to do something is ridiculous. We were receiving 4-10 calls a day on our AT&T landline. I had the number changed to a brand new, never used before unlisted and unpublished number number and the calls started again three days later. It wasn't as bad, but it was getting worse and I said fuckit and started shopping. I'm not going to pay AT&T to be a conduit for what's almost torture when you consider I have a 73 year old senile parent who is recovering from cancer treatment in the house, and I can't just turn the ringers off. So I went with a VOIP service that's freemium + taxes (it's running me $15.50 a month) and I told AT&T to get bent, and since the day the VIOP thingy went online we've not had a single scam call. If they do start I'll block them. Or I can switch to a whitelist-only and dump all the others.

    The point is, don't sit there and bitch about the problem. Find an answer that works for you and dump the providers who haven't done anything but blow hot air up Pai's bunghole. Complaining doesn't fix anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 12:52pm

      Re: Hint: DIY

      Use Google Voice. Routes to any phones you want, accepts texts, does text to voice, voice to text, emails you your missed calls, and that's just the features I use. There's a pile more.

      That's the ONLY number I give out. Only a few friends and relatives have my direct number - the google number defaults to voice mail, effectively white listing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 May 2019 @ 1:51pm

        Re: Re: Hint: DIY

        As long as you have a direct number you are still vulnerable. Most of these scams dial starting at some number like 360-451-1000 and keep dialing incrementally. It's not about finding your number somewhere at all. They'll find you simply because you have a phone.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 May 2019 @ 6:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Hint: DIY

          Correct. The robodialers will find anything with an inbound number that can be dialed, even such unlikely things as elevator phones!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 10:01am

      Re: Hint: DIY

      nice comment.
      But they made the system so that it can be Private, and also Spoofed..Faked.
      IF they FIX that we Can do something ourselves.
      In the old system with Base phones that were always at your home There was a way to get all the data...but Now with cellphones, I have not heard of a way to Gather it..And it there was, ou would know all the capabilities that such a system creates..

      Be Afraid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 15 May 2019 @ 12:06pm

    What we need is Pai's cell number

    So we can call him every time ww get a robocall.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 May 2019 @ 2:15pm

    Let's not be hasty

    Jumping right into a meeting to maybe think about talking about the problem is very much jumping the gun. Clearly they need to host a pre-meeting to discuss the merits of hosting a meeting to discuss the matter, to better ensure that the second meeting is both warranted and has clearly defined parameters(stuff like 'the companies involved are absolutely not to be blamed, for anything') to keep the meeting on track and avoid wandering into irrelevant or unproductive tangents.

    Of course with such a nebulous and frankly out-there idea like 'robocalls are bad' there's the question of whether or not it's even worth that much effort, so just to be sure might want to set up a pre-pre-meeting to consider the merits of holding the pre-meeting and avoid wasting time on something that isn't even really a problem to the only people/companies that matter in the discussion...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Me, 15 May 2019 @ 5:50pm

    Rubber stamp for industry?

    "The FCC, now little more than a rubber stamp for industry under Ajit Pai" That's the whole reason the FCC (and other agencies like the FDA) exist - to act as a rubber stamp for industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 10:23am

    Robo-calls make money for the telcos

    The root issue is that that telco companies can't stop robocalls because they don't want to. And why don't they want to? Become someone, somewhere along the line is making money of the connections that the phone makes. Do you really think AT&T doesn't know that the robo-call comes from a burner phone going through their cell tower in California?
    If there were 4.9 billion robo-calls placed in April, how much money do companies like AT&T get per call? Let's say 1/2 a cent. That's $24.5 million! For basically doing nothing.

    It would be interesting if an investigative reporter could find some actual numbers about how much the telcos get for connecting robo-calls. Maybe we'd see some change if this created (more) public outrage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 1:46pm

      Re: Robo-calls make money for the telcos

      They don't use burner phones; that would be too expensive and slow. They dial from computers so they can call tens of thousands of numbers on the cheap. That's why robocalling wasn't a problem on this scale before VOIP.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gerald Robinson (profile), 16 May 2019 @ 3:52pm

    Pai is a symptom of congressional greed and incompetence

    The DVD is a compromise kludge. The Congress critters were afraid that any meaningful regulation of communications will be used to unfairly disadvantage them. They are right but it matters not whether the regulation is managed e.g. the FCC or the old unregulated internet. The Committee part of the DVD insures that unless Congress does its job the DVD is a guaranteed failure!

    The answer is to kick out the 'good ok boyes' and implement congressional term limits and restrict idiots from voting. Much easier said than done!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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