May 20, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted Thursday to shorten the deadline by which small voice service providers must become STIR/SHAKEN compliant.
The FCC voted Thursday to bring sooner the deadline for smaller providers with 100,000 or fewer subscribers to comply with the phone call security protocol by a year, from June 30, 2023 to June 30, 2022.
STIR/SHAKEN is an acronym for Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs. It is a caller identification technology that allows carriers to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number, allowing a consumer to be sure that the number matches the supposed caller.
The impetus for this change followed a sharp increase in spoof calls targeting smaller carriers that were not yet compliant with STIR/SHAKEN. FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks pointed out that in March of 2021, more than 6.3 billion spoof calls had been made. This number broke the previous record which had just been set in October of 2020 with 6.1 billion spoof calls.
“Clearly, we cannot afford to let up on our efforts to identify the culprits of these annoying and frequently fraudulent calls,” Starks said.
Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel pointed out that while it makes sense to provide honest providers with additional time to become compliant with the new technology, it was time for a change.
“We recently discovered that some of these smaller companies are pumping large volumes of traffic onto our networks, and a lot of it looks suspiciously like robocalls. It is time to change course,” she said.
Rosenworcel said STIR/SHAKEN compliance is only one plank in the platform of addressing spoof calls. She pointed to the record-setting $255-billion fine the FCC recently handed down to Texas telemarketers using robocalls to sell fraudulent health insurance plans. She also stated that the FCC had issued ten cease and desist letters to providers that appeared to be complicit with spoof calling.
She indicated that it would take all these strategies working in tandem to stamp out robocalling and spoofing.
FCC Narrows Small Provider Group for Accelerated Robocall Compliance Timeline
Providers that are not facilities-based will need to meet their robocall obligations by June 2022.
WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will provide facilities-based voice service providers a full two-year extension for complying with robocall regulations, while moving up the deadline for certain small operators to comply.
The agency originally ruled earlier this year that all small voice service providers that have 100,000 or fewer subscribers must comply by June 2022 with the STIR/SHAKEN regulations, a regime that requires operators to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number and give consumers certainty that the number matches that of the supposed caller. The June 2022 date was revised earlier this year from a June 2023 timeline set earlier. The regime has been in place for large carriers since June of this year.
But after reviewing further evidence, the agency on Friday argued that a smaller “subset” of affected carriers that don’t have networks “are originating an increasing quantity of illegal robocalls.”
As a result, the FCC requires those non-facilities-based providers to continue to work toward the June 2022 deadline to comply with the regime, which operators have said is a highly technical and expensive endeavor. By narrowing the group, the FCC effectively allowed facilities-based operators to have the full compliance extension, until June 2023.
Friday’s decision follows submissions to the agency by facilities-based carriers who argued they should be granted a full extension to June 2023 precisely because the preponderance of illegal spam calls doesn’t originate from them.
The Competitive Carriers Association, NTCA, and USTelecom argued that facilities-based providers shouldn’t be penalized for calls that largely don’t run their networks.
The NTCA said in an August submission that “care must be taken to correctly identify this group of small providers in a surgical and precise manner that does not sweep in innocent actors and compel them to adopt this standard on a timeframe they had neither anticipated nor budgeted for.”
They also argued that the burden of proof is on the non-facilities-based carriers to who why they need additional time.
Charging for Call Whitelisting Could Hamper Robocall Fight, Small Provider Says
Small provider says cost and fast-moving deadlines making it hard to implement robocall regulations.
November 9, 2021 – A representative at a small voice service provider is warning that alleged anticompetitive behavior, such as charging customers for whitelisting phone numbers, can slow progress on the illegal robocall fight.
“We have to be careful about [anticompetitive] practices like having customers pay to be on a whitelist to have their calls go through,” said Greg Rogers, head of global policy and regulatory affairs at communications software company Bandwidth, at the INCOMPAS 2021 conference in Las Vegas on October 25. “Those kinds of practices are bad for smaller businesses less able to cover the cost of these new solutions.”
“Whitelisting” is a tool that allows only calls from numbers in someone’s contact list. Some companies already offer these capabilities for free, but others may charge for them. Rogers said he thinks voice companies should offer the service to the general public for free and not as an additional cost “add on” service.
Rogers said these additional charged services can help larger companies pay for their compliance with the STIR/SHAKEN framework, which requires voice service providers to place measures to combat illegal robocalls that often lead to scams that affect millions of Americans. Those new measures include analytics software that labels calls based on authenticity. The deadline for large providers to implement these rules was June 30 this year and June 30, 2022 for smaller providers.
Despite the longer timeline for smaller players to implement the rules, Rogers said it is going to be harder for them to do so without the additional revenue stream.
Rogers warned that the FCC may be pushing the industry too hard for deadlines that are hard to meet. “We’re moving too fast in implementation and expectations are not being set appropriately,” he said. “It’s a bipartisan, political winner to be against robocalling, and we’ve seen a really fast, hard driving set of demands.” Rogers pointed to the FCC’s December 2020 mandates as a good example of demands that are hard to meet. The FCC’s Fourth Report and Order required voice providers to add call blocking notifications to indicate that a call is unwanted. “The pushback is, it’s too hard. We can’t do it that fast, we need more time.”
Rogers said the complexity of the issues combined with a globally interconnected network makes it hard to deliver consistent service while optimizing their systems for call blocking.
“I didn’t say we should move slow, but people have to recognize how hard it is,” Rogers said. “[the call blocking effort] will march forward and that’s good. Don’t get expectations set that it’s gonna be fixed tomorrow. It’s not.”
The industry-wide endeavor to eliminate harmful robocalling continues as robocalls have risen over the past month. Analytics company YouMail’s call blocking data shows that Americans received over 4 billion robocalls in October, increasing 3.1 percent since September. So far this year, Americans have received 42.8 billion robocalls. Since robocall mitigation tools took effect on June 30, robocalls decreased about 8 percent per month on average.
FCC Hears Hawaiian Struggles with Robocalls, Spoofing
Hawaii official estimates that 10 million spoofed and robocalls go unreported.
WASHINGTON, November 3, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission held a webinar Thursday to field concerns and raise awareness of the agency’s efforts to stifle robocalls and spoofing in Hawaii, hearing that such illegal activity is still very active on the island state.
The FCC has been on pushing publicity on the need for telecommunications companies to put in place measures to tackle illegal robocalls and scammers who mask their caller ID numbers to get unsuspecting Americans to pick up the phone. That is part of the new STIR/SHAKEN rules, the deadline for which went into effect in late June for large telecoms. (Smaller telecoms currently have an expected compliance deadline of June 2022, but there is a fight to extend the deadline for some providers.)
Lyle Ishida, FCC’s chief of consumer affairs and outreach division, hosted the webinar alongside Hawaiian reporter, Diane Ako and heard that Hawaiians face a number of malicious phone scams, including one that ostensibly originates from the island’s criminal justice data center.
Stephen Levins, the executive director of Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection, spoke of the ways scammers deceive consumers. Levins spoke of strategies as common as a caller asking for a social security number, to complex schemes where callers specifically target Asian Americans by impersonating Amazon workers, police departments and financial institutions. “It’s happening on a daily basis in Hawaii,” Levins said.
Underreported calls mask Hawaii’s robocall problem
Levins said he estimated that 10 million unreported spoofs or robocalls reached Hawaiian citizens in September alone, which makes it appear that the island state doesn’t have as big a problem nationally as it actually does.
Keyla Hernandez-Ulloa, associate chief of the FCC’s Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, spoke at length about the work her organization does to combat spoofing and robocalls, not just in Hawaii, but nationally. “The FCC knows these calls are an area of concern for millions of Americans,” she said.
Thursday’s webinar was also another example of the FCC driving up its engagement with local officials to ensure they are up to speed on what the agency is doing. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has spoken about outreach as a priority for the agency to ensure its message gets to local communities, especially those who need funds for broadband expansion.
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