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Telecom Carriers Collaborate With States to Thwart Robocalls

Supriyo Bose

Leading domestic telecom carriers have joined forces to clamp down on robocalls or unwanted phone calls, and have struck an agreement with attorney generals of all the states and the District of Columbia. The deal is aimed to shield consumers from this growing menace and eliminate the root cause by empowering law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

The move seems to be a major step in a synchronized attack on this perennial problem, as the Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) have also embarked on decisive actions to curb unsolicited calls. Before we take a closer look at these measures, let us dig a little deep into these spoofed calls.

Robocalls: A Growing Menace

A robocall is an unsolicited phone call that typically uses a pre-recorded message like that delivered by a robot to market various products and services or serve reminders for pharmacy visits or debt payments. Using an automated dialing system, these calls are made without customer consent and are often viewed as irritants as customers are bombarded with thousands of such calls on a day. Per data from YouMail Inc., a developer of software that blocks the calls, about 48 billion robocalls were made last year, up from 31 billion in 2017, which translates to 4 billion robocalls a month.

In addition to infringement on customer privacy, robocalls try to siphon off personal data to con individuals. This eventually has led to several scams, robbing unsuspecting customers of their hard-earned money.

Preventive Measures Already in Place

In order to prevent customers from receiving spurious calls, several telecom players have come up with innovative solutions through their bundled offers or supported apps. AT&T T provides a blocking app and service called Call Protect that detects and blocks fraudulent calls, flags spam calls as “Suspected Spam” when the phone rings, and helps to maintain a personal block list. The service is likely to be enabled for new customers as a default in the near future followed by a similar such measure in existing customers.  

Verizon Communications Inc. VZ offers a free version of its Call Filter service in compatible phones and postpaid plans that tries to detect and filter spam calls. In addition to alerting users, it reports unsolicited numbers and blocks them. T-Mobile US Inc. TMUS offers Scam ID and Scam Block features free to all its postpaid and Metro customers. While Scam ID helps to identify potential scammers, Scam Block helps to block all likely scammers even before the call comes in.

The Deal

Responding to the call of the hour, 12 leading telecom players have collaborated to ink an agreement with the states to launch free call-blocking technology and make other free anti-robocall devices and apps available to subscribers. These are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, CenturyLink Inc., Comcast Corp., Sprint Corp., Bandwidth Inc., Charter Communications Inc., Consolidated Communications Holdings Inc., Frontier Communications Corp., U.S. Cellular Corp. and Windstream Holdings Inc. The agreement reinforces their earlier pledge to set up updated technology by the end of the year in response to an appeal by the FCC to curb the exponential growth of robocalls.

FCC & Congress Pitch In

The FCC has proposed a couple of measures to end the unsolicited robocalls that users have to constantly grapple with. These include creation of a national database of disconnected phone numbers that are reassigned to other users to avoid dialing the wrong customers repeatedly and enabling telecom service providers to block and filter text messages deemed as spam. The FCC has also demanded a digital validation by carriers to curb this menace.

Meanwhile, the Congress has passed the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act by an overwhelming majority in the Senate, followed by an almost unanimous approval of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act in the House. The Senate bill will facilitate to protect consumers from spoofed calls with fake caller IDs. The House bill aims to stop the unwanted robocalls from being made in the very first instance by strengthening the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which ensures that these callers must have consent from consumers before dialing.

With both bills likely signed into law and telecom carriers working in unison with states, robocalls are expected to be significantly curbed the in the near future. New York Attorney General Letitia James perfectly observed, “The bad actors running these deceptive operations will soon have one call left to make: to their lawyers.”

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