The US robo-call war - who wins and why

    The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continues to fine organizations for spam calls. Over the past few years, the total amount of fines exceeded $ 200 million, but the violators paid only $ 7 thousand. We are discussing why it happened and what the regulators are going to do. / Unsplash / Pavan Trikutam

    Magnitude of the problem

    Last year, the United States recorded 48 billion robotic calls. This is 56% more than a year earlier. Telephone spam complaints are becoming the most common cause of consumer complaints from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In 2016, employees of the organization recorded five million calls. Within a year, this figure amounted to seven million.

    Since 2003, America has operated a national database of phone numbers of owners who refuse to make advertising calls - Do Not Call Registry . But its effectiveness leaves much to be desired, since it does not save collectors, charitable organizations and companies conducting polls from calls.

    Increasingly, automatic calling services are used to extort money. According to YouMail, out of four billion robo calls last September, 40% were scammers.

    Do Not Call Registry related violations are monitored by the US Federal Communications Commission. The organization imposes fines and collects them, but the last task is more difficult to fulfill than it might seem. In the period from 2015 to 2019, the FCC issued fines amounting to $ 208 million. To date, it has been possible to collect a little less than $ 7 thousand.

    Why did it happen

    FCC officials say they do not have enough authority to force companies to pay fines. All cases of non-payers are dealt with by the Ministry of Justice, but they do not have enough resources to analyze millions of violations. An additional complication is the fact that it can be difficult to get to the source of robo-calls . Modern technologies allow you to configure the "fake" automatic telephone exchanges and conduct all operations through them (for example, from other countries).

    Intruders also use fake numbers that are difficult to track. But even if they find those responsible for unauthorized robo-calls, they often turn out to be small companies or individuals who simply do not have money to pay the fine in full.

    What will they do

    Last year, a Congressman from the House of Representatives proposed a bill called the Stopping Bad Robocalls, which will give the FCC more authority in matters related to the imposition and collection of fines. A similar project is being prepared in the upper house of the US Congress. It is called Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED).

    / Unsplash / Kelvin Yup

    By the way, the FCC itself also seeks to solve the problem. But their initiatives are primarily aimed at combating spam calls. An example would be a requirementintroduce the SHAKEN / STIR protocol on the side of telecom companies, which allows you to verify callers. The subscriber’s providers verify the call information — location, organization, device information — and only then establish a connection. We described in more detail how the protocol works in one of the previous materials .

    SHAKEN / STIR has already been implemented  by T-Mobile and  Verizon . Their customers are now notified of calls from suspicious numbers. Recently , Comcast joined this deuce . Other US carriers are still testing the technology. It is expected that they will complete the tests before the end of 2019.

    But not everyone is convinced that the new protocol will help reduce the number of unwanted robo-calls. As a representative of one of the telecoms said in April , in order to have an effect, it is necessary to allow providers to automatically block such calls.

    And we can say that his proposal was heard. In early June, the FCC decided to give mobile operators such an opportunity. The commission also developed new rules that will allow regulating this process.

    But there is a chance that the FCC decision will not last long. A similar situation occurred several years ago - then the commission already allowed operators to block all incoming robotic calls. However, a group of activists from ACA International - the American Collectors Association - sued the FCC andlast year won the case , forcing the commission to change the decision.

    Whether it will turn out to make the new FCC regulation a part of the telecom ecosystem, or will last year's history repeat, remains to be seen in the near future.

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