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Robocall Framework Hobbled by Lack of Adoption, Non-IP Carriers: FCC Submissions

Commenters urge FCC not to further extend robocall deadlines to comply with framework.

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Photo of Sam Feder, represented Neustar, from the law firm of Jenner & Block

WASHINGTON, October 25, 2022 – The effectiveness of the Federal Communications Commission’s robocall framework will not see its full potential until all carriers are captured by the framework, said submissions to the agency, which urged the commission to encourage carriers to move to the internet protocol and to not grant any additional time to adopt the framework for those carriers.

The commission is seeking comments about whether the STIR/SHAKEN – Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs – framework is effective and if deadline extensions for participation should be afforded to those not currently under the framework.

The framework is designed to combat illegal robocalls and spoof calls, that deliberately falsify the information transmitted to caller ID to disguise their identity to the end user.

The framework allows for authentication and verification of caller ID information for calls carried over the Internet Protocol network. The originating carrier shares what it knows about a caller ID to the terminating provider by signing them with an encrypted attestation level – A, B, and C – that represents whether the provider can confirm the identity of the caller, confirm the phone number, or that the call originated elsewhere.

But submissions to the FCC said the framework is ineffective because some carriers have not adopted a move to the IP network, which the framework requires to communicate attestation levels.

NCTA, TransNexus, Neustar and others weigh in

“Continuing the transition to IP and broadening the adoption of STIR/SHAKEN are essential to the framework’s further success,” read comments submitted by industry association NCTA – the Internet and Television Association.

“This is no fault of the framework,” added voice-over IP company TransNexus in its comment, indicating that the failure results from its ineffective use within the U.S. telephone network, adding the lack of transition to IP has hindered the framework’s widespread adoption.

NCTA further suggested that the commission measure how the lack of progress in the IP transition has and will continue to limit STIR/SHAKEN’s effectiveness in achieving its full intended benefits. Doing so, it claimed, would provide the commission insight into next steps to broaden the impact and adoption of the framework.

Not only does IP adoption hinder its progress, but so does “inconsistent” STIR/SHAKEN implementation among service providers, said telecom analytics company Neustar in its comments. Providers do not appropriately apply attestation.

Neustar, USTelecom, and the American Bankers Association alike indicated concern that some calls are given authentication levels that they are unqualified to receive while others, namely legitimate calls from banks, receive lesser attestations that hinder their business.

“In the most egregious cases, originating providers are using A-level attestations for clearly spoofed calls, which makes it more difficult for analytics tools to separate good calls from bad calls,” said Neustar, urging the FCC to encourage providers to properly apply attestation by following Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions specifications for attestations.

Extensions to abide by framework

By congressional direction, the FCC required providers to implement this technology in their IP networks by June of 2021, except in the case of extensions for applicable parties, namely small businesses that face “undue” burden in adopting the framework.

In May of 2021, the commission unanimously voted to shorten its previous deadline by which small voice service providers must become STIR/SHAKEN compliant. But in December, it ruled that non-facilities-based carriers must abide by the earlier deadline of June 2022 because they originated an “increasing quantity” of illegal robocalls, while facilities-based carriers had the additional year until June 2023 to adopt.

As part of its request for comments, the FCC asked for consideration on implementation of further deadline extensions to applicable parties in adopting the STIR/SHAKEN framework. Commenters agreed almost universally that the effectiveness of the system depends on the widespread adoption of the framework and rejected the possibility of extending the deadline.

Telecommunications company Transaction Network Services argued that the extension should be allowed to expire as planned because the true potential of the framework is only realized when all or virtually all voice service providers utilize it.

Last year, the FCC handed record-setting fines to Texas telemarketers and issued numerous cease-and-desist letters to providers that appeared to be complicit with spoof calling. Earlier this month, the FCC proposed that seven voice service providers be removed from receiving call traffic after violating the STIR/SHAKEN framework. Removing these service providers would require all other providers to ease carrying the offending provider’s traffic.

In September, the FCC requested comments on a proposed rule to apply the framework’s caller ID standards to text messaging.

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FCC

FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection

The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.

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Photo of people working on computers, cropped, in 2011 by Victor Grigas

WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.

The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.

The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.

“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “So we’re doing just that.  The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP.  We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”

Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.

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Broadband's Impact

Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels

The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.

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Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.

The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.

The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.

In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.

“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,”  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. 

“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products.  We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services.  Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”

Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.

“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.

“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”

Image of the FCC’s sample broadband nutrition label

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FCC

FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says

‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via fcc.gov

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.

The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.

“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.

The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.

The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform[] existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.

“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.

“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.

“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.

The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.

In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.

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