Global carriers face fines of thousands per illegal call, warns FCC
Carriers carrying IP voice calls into the US from outside now have to authenticate those calls before delivering them, or face fines of thousands of dollars per call.
In a pair of actions on a single day, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has toughened its law both on these illegal incoming calls – what the Americans call “robocalls” – and on scam text messages.
The new rules mean all carriers will have to declare their role in call chains, and will have to confess to the FCC whether they’re facing any legal or regulatory action.
Jessica Rosenworcel (pictured), chair of the FCC, said last night: “The scammers behind robocalls are relentless. They are always looking for loopholes and new ways to advance old schemes. But today we shut down a gap we found in our policies, demonstrating that we can be even more nimble than the bad actors responsible for these junk calls.”
At the same time the FCC’s action on text messages means carriers have to block text messages “that appear to come from phone numbers that are unlikely to transmit text messages. This includes invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers.”
Rosenworcel said: “These robotexts are making a mess of our phones. … We require providers to stop the texts that are most likely to be illegal. This approach has the support of attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
The FCC rules on robocalls extends the coverage of its so-called Stir/Shaken rules, which previously applied just to domestic telcos.
The FCC said: “The new rules will require intermediate providers that receive unauthenticated IP calls … to use Stir/Shaken to authenticate those calls.”
It noted: “Some originating providers are not capable of using the framework. In other cases, unscrupulous originating providers may deliberately fail to authenticate calls.”
But now, said the regulator last night, “by requiring the next provider in the call path to authenticate those calls, the FCC closes a gap in the caller ID authentication regime and facilitates government and industry efforts to identify and block illegal robocalls.”
This move was predicted last year in Capacity by Eli Katz, CEO of XConnect, which is owned by Somos, the US company that administrates the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), covering all fixed and mobile phone numbers in Canada, the US and its territories, and some Caribbean countries.
Katz told us last year: “There’s a substantial spam robocall issue in the US. Unfortunately, after implementation of Stir/Shaken at a significant cost to the US industry, the initial results are not what the industry would have liked. The FCC anticipated it though.”
As a result, the FCC has now toughened the rules by expanding them to carriers bringing foreign-originating calls that are directed to US numbers.
The regulator said in its statement last night: “All providers, regardless of their Stir/Shaken implementation status, will now be required to take ‘reasonable steps’ to mitigate illegal robocall traffic and submit a certification and mitigation plan to the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database.”
It warned: “These filings will now also include additional details on a provider’s role in the call chain, Stir/Shaken implementation obligations, and any recent formal law enforcement or regulatory action or investigation into suspected unlawful robocalling.”
The FCC said “violations of its mandatory blocking rules could result in substantial fines using per call forfeiture calculations”.
One industry observer has told Capacity that in the run-up to this tougher regime, the FCC has been imposing fines of around $4,000 on every single call that broke the rules.
Rosenworcel said that all carriers in a chain will have to register with the FCC’s Robocall Mitigation Database. “Then we go one step further and prohibit downstream carriers from accepting calls from intermediate providers not listed in the database.”
Meanwhile the FCC said, in yesterday’s other significant rule-making, that there has been a “a more than 500% increase in complaints in recent years” about robotexts, rising from 3,300 in 2015 to 18,900 last year.
“And robotexts pose a unique threat to consumers: unlike robocalls, scam text messages are hard to ignore or hang-up on and are nearly always read by the recipient – often immediately,” said the FCC last night.
“In addition, robotexts can promote links to phishing websites or websites that can install malware on a consumer’s phone.”
Rosenworcel observed: “It’s good stuff. But we are not stopping here. Because we also adopt a rulemaking to explore other ways to stop unwanted text messages, including authentication measures and rules to prevent the abuse of consumer consent.”