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FCC Proposes Measures to Limit Unwanted Access to Numbers, Protect Against Foreign Entities

The agency proposed rules for public comment on that would further restrict illegal use of numbering resources.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 9, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on proposed rules that it expects will reduce access to phone numbers by those running illegal robocalls and to further enhance public safety by adding transparency measures on foreign providers.

At the August Open Meeting on Thursday, the FCC said it is proposing to require voice-over-internet protocol providers to abide by the new robocalling regime, which requires voice service providers to put in place measures to limit spam calls and ID masking or face severe penalties.

To block calls, voice providers must first gather analytics on the origins of the call and essentially tag its authenticity before its routed.

As of the June 30 deadline, all major U.S. phone companies use caller ID authentication system to label calls as part of the regime, known as STIR/SHAKEN. This allows for end-to-end phone calls to be verified with a now common digital tool. AT&T said in June that is it now labelling over one billion calls a month.

Last week’s meeting also yielded other proposals to safeguard limited numbering resources, “protect against national security risks…and further promote public safety” by adding a layer of oversight at the executive branch level to vet those outside the United States trying to access numbering resources. That includes requiring applicants disclose foreign ownership information.

This would add to the federal government’s approach to protecting national security from foreign entities perceived as threats to the country, including legislation introduced recently that would prevent the FCC from approving those companies with ties to the Chinese communist party.

Expert Opinion

Jeff Pulver and Noah Rafalko: A Humble Request to the FCC on Robocalls

Blocking bad actors requires a whole new way of thinking, the authors say in this ExpertOp exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

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The authors of this Expert Opinion are Jeff Pulver (left), innovator in VoIP and Noah Rafalko, is a pioneer in TNID

Should the Federal Communications Commission seek out alternative platforms to solve their 2022 spam, scam and robocall issues? Yes! Does Blockchain offer valuable solutions? Yes! We would like to ask the FCC to increase the width of their lens when it comes to deploying solutions to solve their growing number of systemic challenges.

Any action to stop robocall insanity and tech-driven scams would be welcome. While Americans deal with the linger pandemic, mass shootings, an uncertain economy and war in Europe, the constant annoyance from scammers and 4.1 billion robocalls a month is just too much. Most people have responded by literally giving up voice communications all together.

Recently implemented legislation called STIR/SHAKEN is a step in the right direction, but it is not a long-term solution. The FCC  is simply taking old standards and applying them to new technologies. New thinking is needed; the next generation of technology must be explored. And the most promising of the new tools to protect our telecommunications system from fraudulent players lies in blockchain.

The key to stopping these nefarious acts lies in a digital identity solution powered by blockchain – a shard database or ledger. An identity solution enables customers to be confident that the communication is truly from enterprises they know and trust.

With blockchain, only authorized and verified messages get through. Spam and robocalls are virtually eliminated in one shot. All that’s required is a slight change in how we approach communications.

In a world where consumers are already doing whatever they can to self-manage their identity, it isn’t a large leap of faith to imagine adding a certified, digital ID to our telephone numbers.

Consumers freely use their telephone numbers to attest and manage their identity – even more than they use their Social Security numbers, birthdays, mother’s maiden name and secret questions. In our current digital universe, consumers use their phone numbers to register for store discounts, receive health and safety alerts and even transfer money to others.

And in their effort to stop spam and robocalls, consumers willingly add apps such as Hiya, paying over $300 million a year to these intermediaries.

The FCC needs to evolve and embrace the technology that allows consumers and mobile carriers who have a shared stake in attesting their identities. They need to recognize that blockchain technology offers an elegant, all-encompassing solution to the $40 billion in fraud that consumers fall victim to every year.

It’s time we leveraged a solution that’s already being used in other countries such as India, where blockchain technology helps protect over 600 million citizens from spam and robocalls.

Back in 2004, when the future of telecommunications was being written, the FCC was challenged with laying down rules governing Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). At that time, we hosted brown-bag lunches for Congress, and held open demonstration days at the FCC as well as a mini-trade show on the Hill in our effort to inform and educate Congress, staffers and other government employees on the latest and greatest innovations in Internet communications technology.

The FCC would be wise to revisit this practice of show and tell where they hear from the innovators of new game-changing technologies that can solve their biggest concerns. It certainly is wiser than simply taking advice handed down from lobbyists and relying on legislation that’s severely limited and unenforceable.

When the FCC uses its influence to investigate and embrace new and innovative technologies, they can finally make significant headway in restoring trust in the quality of service associated with our communications.

Jeff Pulver is an innovator in the field of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). He was instrumental in changing how the FCC classified VoIP in 2004, paving the way for the development of video and voice internet communications. The co-founder of Vonage, Jeff has invested in over 400 start-ups. 

Noah Rafalko is a pioneer in TNID (Telephone Number ID), a blockchain solution that restores trust in communications. Noah is founder and CEO of TSG Global, Inc. which provides voice, messaging and identity management services for SaaS companies and large enterprises. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Robocall

Public Knowledge Urges VoIP to Be Regulated Under Title II to Stop Robocalls

Title II would require VoIP services to be subject to stronger regulations already in place for telecommunication providers.

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Photo of Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2022 – Public Knowledge is asking the Federal Communications Commission to classify facilities-based voice over Internet protocol services under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which it said would help the commission tackle robocalls.

The non-profit public interest group last week amended a March petition to the agency narrowing the field of VoIP providers to be captured under its proposal to facilities-based interconnected VoIP services, which require a broadband connection for real-time voice communications on the public telephone network. That’s instead of a broader field including non-interconnected services, which allow voice communications through a device not connected to the phone network, like gaming consoles.

Title II specifies authority given to the FCC to regulate “common carriers” – utilities such as landline phones, telecommunication services, and electricity. Currently, VoIP services are not included in any specific classification. Instead, the FCC relies on rules based on its ancillary authority given under Title I of the Communications Act, which provides less regulatory authority to the commission.

If classified under Title II, VoIP providers would be beholden to service quality regulations, such as the prevention of ever-increasing robocalls, and to regulations ensuring affordable access to infrastructure for competitive carriers, Public Knowledge said in its petition.

The organization also said that new categorization would prevent a “crisis of legal authority” for the FCC, which already makes VoIP services subject to certain Title II regulations, such as contributions to the basic telecommunications program, the Universal Service Fund. Currently, Public Knowledge argues, regulations governing VoIP services are a collection of ad hoc rulings based on ancillary authority.

Lack of classification ‘threatens’ FCC ability to fulfill legislative mandate

Congress “deliberately used expansive terms” when defining telecommunications in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which gave the FCC authority to regulate sectors within the communications industry, said the March petition. “At a minimum, Congress intended the FCC to regulate any service that behaves like a traditional telephone service – regardless of the underlying technology – as a telecommunications service,” read the petition.

Yet despite a lack of meaningful difference between VoIP and traditional telephone services, the FCC continues to treat VoIP services differently, said the petition. This “failure” of the FCC to classify VoIP under Title II allegedly frustrates the commission’s ability to effectively address robocalls and makes uncertain whether the commission preempted its authority to regulate VoIP services.

“The FCC’s failure to classify facilities-based interconnected VoIP threatens the ability of the FCC to fulfill the most basic responsibilities entrusted to it by Congress,” stated the petition.

The burden of Title II

In a blog post on the matter, communications law firm CommLaw group argued that Title II VoIP providers would likely be required to obtain FCC approval prior to transfers of assets and mergers and acquisitions, which it said would slow transaction speed considerably. Furthermore, it could open the door to “increased state regulatory oversight, requirements, and burdens,” it added.

Earlier this month, Democratic Senators introduced a bill that would give the FCC regulatory authority over broadband by classifying those services as Title II. It would allow the commission greater regulatory authority to make internet service providers respect principles of net neutrality, which prohibit providers from throttling traffic on their networks, participating in paid prioritization, or blocking of any lawful content. The bill, however, has been met with opposition.

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Rosenworcel Calls on Congress for Expanded Robocaller Enforcement Protocols

The chairwoman seeks increased authority over autodialers and the ability for the FCC to take robocallers to court.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2022 –Federal Communications Commission May 19, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for legislation from Congress that would increase her agency’s authority to act against robocallers.

At the agency’s May 19 open meeting, the chairwoman asked for those increased powers to go after autodialers and for the FCC to be given the ability to take robocallers to court after they are fined by the agency –  rather than delegating that responsibility to the Department of Justice.

The definition of autodialers is hotly debated, particularly following the Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid ruling of the Supreme Court in April 2021, and which designated autodialers as those robocallers operating from a device that has the capacity to either store a phone number using a random or sequential number generator or to produce a phone number using a random or sequential number generator.

A previously court-held definition of autodialers that others believe to be more accurate stated the only defining criterion for an autodialer is that it must have the capacity to “store numbers to be called” and “to dial such numbers automatically.”

This change in definition by the Supreme Court lessens the FCC’s authority to target autodialers, targeting which is also not provided for by the agency’s STIR/SHAKEN protocols which prevent robocallers from lying to phone owners via caller identification about the station the robocalls originate from.

Rather, the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act governs regulation of autodialers and the court’s narrowing of actors it applies to decreases the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction.

2019’s Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act further forms the FCC’s framework for enforcement against robocallers and autodialers.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, Rosenworcel said the commission would require gateway providers, the first U.S.-based provider of robocalls that originate internationally, to perform more authentication measures and certify FCC robocall mitigation plans, and highlighted a study which found that a large portion of robocalls come from abroad.

“We can make it more difficult for these illegal and unwanted calls to hit our networks, we will be much closer to winning our fight,” said Rosenworcel.

“By requiring gateway providers to provide more authentication and the SIP calls in the caller I.D. field.”

The commission adopted a further notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on non-internet protocol authentication methods.

Earlier Thursday, the commission announced new partnerships with nine state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls, raising the number of states participating in the effort to 36.

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