The Federal Communications Commission has escalated its ongoing war against robocallers by proposing new rules banning illegal spoofed text messages and international calls. Separate from those proposals is a renewed threat of regulation and enforcement against phone companies (including wireless companies, landline providers, and tech companies offering VoIP) that fail to deploy effective caller ID authentication plans.
The proposed rules would enable the agency to address consumer concerns about unwanted text messages and scam calls from overseas.
The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 prohibits anyone from transmitting misleading or inaccurate caller ID information (spoofing) with the intent to defraud, cause harm, or wrongly obtain anything of value. Until the recent passage of the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018, however, these consumer protections did not extend to text messages or international calls.
The FCC’s newly proposed rules would implement this new legislation, extending these prohibitions to short message service and multimedia message service text messages, calls originating from outside the United States to recipients within the United States, and additional types of voice calls, such as one-way interconnected VoIP calls.
Unwanted calls—including malicious spoofed calls and illegal robocalls—are the top consumer complaint the FCC receives each year, accounting for over 60 percent of the total complaints received, the agency said in a statement, adding that, “combatting these unwanted calls is the agency’s top consumer protection priority.” The FCC’s enforcement of the Truth in Caller ID Act resulted in more than $200 million in fines issued in 2018 alone.
The Commission received more than 52,000 complaints about spoofed calls in 2018. It is widely believed that many spoofed calls originate from overseas call centers.
On Feb. 14, the FCC also announced the release of the agency’s first ever report on illegal robocalls.
“No consumer wants to be bombarded by spoofed robocalls—they’re a waste of time at best and a scam at worst,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “There’s no easy or single answer, but by using every tool in our toolbox, we are fighting against the onslaught of unwanted calls that has led a lot of consumers to stop answering the phone altogether.”
The robocalls report discusses widespread implementation by providers of the proactive blocking of invalid, unallocated, and unused numbers—as authorized by a 2017 FCC rule change. It also details how hundreds of consumer-initiated call-blocking services have been developed and in many cases are available for free to consumers.
The report also notes “significant progress” made toward caller ID authentication through adoption and implementation of new standards by networks.
The report announced the FCC has proposed or imposed monetary forfeitures totaling $245,923,500 against violators or apparent violators of either the Truth in Caller ID Act or the Telephone Consumer Protection Act since 2010—the majority of which has taken place in the last two years. The report also explains FCC efforts to push for industry-wide cooperation with agency traceback efforts—a process by which government authorities can identify the origination of many telephone calls or text messages in order to catch those violating the law.
On Feb. 13, ahead of the report, Pai reiterated his call for a robust caller ID authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing. He recently asked the nation’s largest carriers to provide details about their caller ID authentication plans, and he has called for implementations to take place this year.
“American consumers are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls, this consumer among them. Caller ID authentication will be a significant step towards ending the scourge of spoofed robocalls,” Pai said.
On Nov. 5, 2018, Pai demanded that the phone industry begin providing caller ID authentication for consumers in 2019. In response, phone companies—including wireless companies, traditional landline providers, and tech companies offering VoIP—outlined their plans.
While some carriers committed to rollout these services in the coming months, others hedged, citing concerns that other carriers appear to have already addressed. Pai argues that wireless providers, interconnected VoIP providers, and telephone companies should make real caller ID authentication a priority and believes that major carriers can meet his 2019 goal.
“It’s time for carriers to implement robust caller ID authentication. … I expect those lagging behind to make every effort to catch up,” he threatened. “If it appears major carriers won’t meet the deadline to get this done this year, the FCC will have to consider regulatory intervention.”