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FCC Hears Hawaiian Struggles with Robocalls, Spoofing

Hawaii official estimates that 10 million spoofed and robocalls go unreported.



Lyle Ishida, FCC’s chief of consumer affairs and outreach division

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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Broadband Mapping & Data

Robocalls, Rip and Replace, Pole Attachments: More Notes From the FCC Oversight Hearing

Commissioners and House lawmakers discussed key topics at a contentious hearing.



Screenshot of commissioners at the hearing Thursday.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – All five Federal Communications Commissioners took part in a lengthy and at times contentious House oversight hearing on Thursday.

Commissioners urged Congress to restore the FCC’s authority to action spectrum, which expired in March and left the nation’s airwaves in limbo, and to fund the Affordable Connectivity Program, the low-income internet subsidy set to dry up in April of next year. 

GOP lawmakers FCC Republicans also took the chance to slam efforts by the commission’s Democratic majority.

The discussion touched on other issues including robocall prevention, rip and replace funding, and pole attachments.


The commission has been taking action on preventing robocalls this year, kicking off an inquiry into using artificial intelligence to detect fraud, blocking call traffic from 20 providers for lax enforcement policies and issuing hundreds of millions in fines. In August the commission also expanded the STIR/SHAKEN regime – a set of measures to confirm caller identities – to all providers who handle call traffic.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel asked multiple times for three Congressional actions she said would help the commission crack down on scam calls: a new definition for “autodialer,” the ability to collect fines, and access to Bank Secrecy Act information.

The Supreme Court limited the definition of autodialers in 2021 to devices that store or produce phone numbers with random or sequential number generators. That leaves the scope of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which guides the FCC’s authority, “stuck in the nineties,” according to Rosenworcel.

“A lot of scam artists are using technologies no longer covered” by the act, she said. “We can’t go after them.”

On collecting robocall fines, that authority currently rests with the Department of Justice, and Rosenworcel is not the first to tell Congress the agency’s enforcement has been lax. Industry groups at an October Senate hearing cited slow DOJ action as a major reason FCC fines on the issue often go uncollected.

The Bank Secrecy Act requires financial institutions to keep records on certain transactions to help law enforcement agencies track money laundering and other criminal activity. The FCC cannot access information governed by the act, which Rosenworcel said would help the commission go after repeat scammers.

“These scam artists set up one company, we shut them down, they go and set another one up,” she said.

Rip and replace

Commissioners urged Congress to fund the rip and replace program. Congress allocated $1.9 billion to reimburse broadband companies for replacing network equipment from Chinese companies deemed to be national security threats, mainly Huawei and ZTE.

The FCC was tasked with overseeing the program and found in 2022 that another $3 billion would be needed to get the work done. The Biden administration joined a chorus of lawmakers and broadband companies in calling for Congress to fill the gap, but legislation on the issue has yet to be passed.

“We’re providing 40 cents on the dollar to a lot of small and rural carriers,” said Rosenworcel. “They need more funds to get the job done.”

The commission has been granting extensions to providers unable to get the work done on time. In addition to supply chain issues, some small providers cite a lack of funding as the reason they’re unable to replace insecure equipment.

Pole attachments

Commissioners expressed a willingness to shift some of the burden of utility pole replacements off of broadband providers as they attach new equipment.

“If a pole is getting replaced,” Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “there’s probably a role for the FCC to say that the pole owner should bear somewhere north of the cost of $0.”

The commission has authority in 26 states over most pole attachment deals between utility pole owners and telecommunications companies looking to expand their networks. The issue of who pays for poles that need to be replaced to accommodate more communications equipment is contentious, with telecoms arguing utilities force them to pay for replacing already junk poles. 

After spending years sifting through thousands of comments, commissioners have apparently been persuaded. Rules up for a vote at the commission’s December meeting would limit the scenarios in which utilities could pass full replacement costs on to attachers.

Broadband funding map

Rosenworcel repeatedly asked lawmakers to work with the commission on ensuring its broadband funding map is kept up to date.

The FCC launched its funding map in May to keep track of the myriad federal broadband subsidy efforts and avoid funding the same areas multiple times. The Department of Agriculture, the FCC, and the Treasury Department each oversee separate broadband funding programs, in addition to the Commerce Department’s upcoming $42.5 billion broadband expansion effort.

The commission has signed memoranda of understanding with those agencies on providing data for the funding map, but Rosenworcel asked the subcommittee for help ensuring the agencies follow through and respond to FCC requests for their funding data. 

“If you could help us make sure those other agencies respond to us with data, you’ll see where there are problems, duplication, areas we haven’t reached,” she said.

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Federal Agencies Need to do More on Robocalls, Senate Hears

Lax DOJ enforcement lets fines go uncollected, witnesses said.



Screenshot of Sen. Ben Ray Luján at the hearing.

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2023 – Federal agencies need to do more to tackle robocalls, experts told lawmakers on Tuesday.

For its part, the Federal Communications Commission has been taking more aggressive action on fraudulent calls and texts in recent months. The commission moved last week to block call traffic from 20 companies for lax robocall policies, and the agency has issued more than $500 million in fines for scam calls in the last year.

But that has not been enough to curb the longstanding issue, said Senator Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said at a Senate subcommittee hearing.

“Scammers used our telecom networks to defraud Amwericans out of an estimated $39 billion in 2022 alone,” he said. “That’s enough money to provide affordable broadband to the 21 million households enrolled in the Affordable Connectivity Program for eight years.”

Very few of the fines issued by the FCC have been collected. For Megan Brown, a lawyer representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that comes down to lax DOJ enforcement. 

Josh Becu, the head of USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group, agreed, telling the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband that Congress should push the DOJ to prioritize robocall enforcement.

“The FCC’s efforts really run out of steam if the [Justice] Department is not there to get them across the finish line and actually collect on some of those forfeitures,” Brown said.

She said Congress could push the Department to prioritize money for robocall investigations and enforcement, or set up a dedicated robocall office. 

Margot Saunders, a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said the FCC should move faster to block call traffic from offending voice providers in the future. 

“If the FCC were to adopt a system under which it quickly suspends the ability of a voice service provider to participate in the network once that provider is determined to be a repeat offender,” Saunders said, “we think that would be a magic bullet.”

The commission announced yesterday a proposed notice of inquiry seeking comment on using artificial intelligence to root out robocall fraud. Commissioners will vote on the proposal at the FCC’s November 15 open meeting.

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FCC Chair Pitches Proposal for Combatting Robocalls Using Artificial Intelligence

The latest step in the agency’s efforts to curb scam calls will kick off this week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.



Screenshot of the AARP fireside chat.

WASHINGTON, October 23, 2023 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission is set to introduce a proposal this week about using artificial intelligence to combat robocalls and robotexts, she said.

Jessica Rosenworcel will be circulating a proposal to get comments on using AI and machine learning to detect fraud, she said on Monday at a fireside chat with AARP policy heads.

AI could be used to detect patterns that indicate potential fraud and “cut those bad actors responsible for robocalls and robotexts off before they ever reach you,” she said.

The proposed inquiry would also seek comment on ways of combating AI-assisted fraud.

Older Americans are especially at risk of losing money to scam phone calls because they are more likely to be isolated, said AARP Texas State Director Tina Tran.

“They want to answer the phone because they want to talk to someone,” she said. “Scammers know this and they really take advantage of it.”

The proposal will be voted on at the commission’s November 15 open meeting. If approved, it will be part of a broader commission effort to combat scam calls and texts.

“This year alone, we’ve issued more than $500 million in fines” for scam calls and texts, Rosenworcel said. 

Most recently, the FCC moved last week to block calls from 20 companies that did not submit adequate robocall policies, in some cases filing blank pages and miscellaneous images instead of fraud prevention plans. If those voice providers do not submit updated plans, they will be removed from the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database, meaning other providers must deny their traffic.

The commission also extended in August its STIR/SHAKEN requirements – measures to confirm the identity of callers – to all providers who handle voice traffic.

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