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Senate Committee Investigates Robocall Efforts

10.05.2017

Earlier this week, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing “Still Ringing Off the Hook: An Update on Efforts to Combat Robocalls,” which focused on efforts by regulators, law enforcement and industry to combat the continuing issue with consumers being impacted by illegal robocalls.

USTelecom Vice President of Law and Policy Kevin Rupy testified at the hearing, which also featuring speakers including the Federal Trade Commission’s Lois Greisman, the BBB Institute’s Genie Barton and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-ME) recounted during the hearing how her long-time chief of staff recently told her that she didn’t truly understand how bad the robocall problem was until she retired and was home all day. “From morning til night, she says her phone rings – often with threatening scam artists on the other end of the line,” Collins said.

“If we are going to win this fight, we need to better our understanding of these con artists and their scams and how they operate,” she said.

Ranking Member Bob Casey (D-PA) said that his wife recently got a robocall from someone demanding money and recounted that during a hearing earlier this year, an 80-year-old Pennsylvania woman was scammed out of more than $800,000 from robocallers claiming she’d won a lottery.

“We have a lot of complicated issues to tackle here in Congress, but this is not one of them. To the scammers out there I say this: Your time is up. You will not steal one more penny from seniors without suffering the consequences,” Sen. Casey said.

During the hearing, USTelecom’s Rupy talked about industry efforts to combat the call, noting that USTelecom and its members “share the Committee’s concern about the problems associated with phone-based impostor scams targeted at seniors.” Calls using Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) technology when combined with Caller ID spoofing can be used by scammers to mask their identity and location, giving their target a false sense of confidence about who is calling, he said.

During the last year, there have been three important developments in the fight against these illegal calls, however.

  1. An industry-led, ecosystem-wide Robocall Strike Force has been working together on new solutions to combat the ongoing fight against these calls. The Strike Force issued a final to the Federal Communications Commission on October 26, 2016 but the work hasn’t stopped there. Industry had started working on the so-called SHAKEN/STIR standards development for next-generation of robocall mitigation before the Robocall Strike Force launched, but those standards accelerated by six months as a result of it. These standards, which incorporate caller-ID authentication capabilities into the network and consumer devices, are now in the testing phase and could go into use as early as next year.
  2. USTelecom member companies, independent application developers and a growing number of diverse companies are offering a growing number of services to help older Americans and others reduce the number of unknown and potentially fraudulent calls they receive.  AT&T has launched a ‘Call Protect’ service that allows customers with iPhones and HD Voice-enabled Android phones to automatically block suspected fraudulent calls. Verizon is also testing a service that warns its wireline customers about calls identified as suspicious. On the wireless side, Verizon is using robocall mitigation features as part of its Caller Name ID service. Several other carriers are working with call-blocking service NoMorobo to help their customers avoid these calls, such as Verizon’s “one click” solution that simplifies customers’ ability to sign up for the service.
  3. The FCC recently published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking focused on clarifying rules for when voice providers may block certain types of calls.  USTelecom supports the proposed rules and has participated fully in the proceeding.  One issue the FCC raises is what protections legitimate callers should have if their calls are blocked due to the inappropriate scoring of their call.  That is an important topic both for situations where voice providers block numbers directly, and for blocking services that consumers may opt into in order to block or filter potentially unwanted calls. 

All these recent developments further demonstrate the commitment from a wide-range of stakeholders– including cable, wireline, wireless, and wholesale providers, as well as standards organizations, equipment manufacturers and apps developers – to work together on practices, technologies and methods to stop these robocall attacks and scams. 

We’re also working with the federal government, consumer groups and law enforcement on heightened consumer awareness of ways to prevent illegal robocalls as well as enforcement to stop them.

Robocall scams are constantly changing which is why industry efforts to combat them can’t be static. By working together on enforcement, consumer education and better technological tools that can stop the spoofing of Caller ID information, we hope that fewer consumers will soon be bothered by these calls. This is an issue USTelecom, its members, and other parts of the robocall labeling/scoring ecosystem, have been wrestling with for years and we’re committed to keeping up the fight.

This fall we are hosting a workshop aimed at helping develop “best practices” for the scoring and labeling of calls. We’re planning on similar efforts moving forward as we seek solutions to this problem.