6 Takeaways from the RoboCall StrikeForce

Yesterday, the FCC RoboCall StrikeForce presented their final report, actions, and recommendations. Next Caller Account Executive Tim Prugar sat in on the webcast, and here are his takeaways.

There are few greater pleasures in life than taking a seat in a cozy chair, slipping on some headphones, and watching an hour-long livestream of a government hearing. Yesterday, at 1:00 PM EST, that’s precisely what I got to do. Believe in yourself kids…dreams really do come true.

Before getting to the meat of the presentation, a solid recognition, admiration, and appreciation of the work that the StrikeForce members put in is in order. The StrikeForce was assembled in Late July, and over the course of 60 days the committee engaged in over 100 meetings, produced a 47 page report, and rolled out an aggressive timeline for continued action steps. From my estimation, this committee worked at blazing speed, and should be commended for that.

Now, onto my key takeaways:

 

1.     The FCC Has Fantastic Taste in Music

The waiting music the FCC plays on its website before the livestream kicks in? A soft jazz version of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, inarguably one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

 

 

2.     Both the FCC and Carriers Will Focus on Increasing Consumer Information

 One of the largest tangible outputs of the StrikeForce was the launch of a brand new FCC website:

https://www.fcc.gov/stop-unwanted-calls

The site approaches RoboCalls from a perspective of lessening their impact. The site gives consumers information on what RoboCalls are, the legal regulations surrounding telemarketing, remedies that customers can take to protect themselves from RoboCalls, as well as a clearly identified place for lodging complaints.

As technical solutions are much more difficult and costly to build, look for both carriers and government actors to create better-educated consumers, particularly those consumers that fit demographics that are at-risk for phone fraud.

 

3.     VOIP Throws a Wrench in the System

 One of the trends that came up multiple times during the report is that any technical solution to be launched by Carriers to stop RoboCalls and Call Spoofing needs to be able to detect both calls that originate from traditional landlines as well as internet-based VOIP calls. AT&T stated explicitly that the majority of call spoofing originates through VOIP, so being able to analyze and detect these type of calls is of primary importance. Look for Carriers to heavily invest in R&D or vendor solutions that can analyze landline, mobile, and VOIP to detect spoofing…preferably real-time.

 

4.     Info-Sharing and Cooperation Among Carriers is a Must

One of the most celebrated outputs of the StrikeForce was the “Do Not Originate” (DNO) List. The DNO list, as documented here, allows organizations who do not make outbound calls displaying their inbound number (IRS, 911) to petition to have their number blocked by carriers when it displays as the outbound number. The IRS made written DNO Requests for a series of numbers, and reported a 90% reduction in reports of IRS scam calls following the deployment of a DNO.

To be fair, it’s unclear how much of that reduction was due to these raids in India, but it is still an impressive result.

A successful adoption of a national DNO Registry requires cooperation across Carriers. In addition, the StrikeForce made recommendations to increase sharing of information on “bad actors” across networks, effectively creating a “telecommunications profile” of a phone scammer. The committee also suggested creating “Call Categories” as an industry that will limit false positives when blocking spoofed or potentially fraudulent calls.

 

5.     The Government Has a Tolerance For False Positives

One of the largest concerns for Carriers when cracking down on RoboCalls and Call Spoofing is pretty straightforward: what are the legal and business ramifications for blocking flagged calls that are actually legitimate?

The FCC made it clear that, if Carriers are doing their due diligence and making a good faith effort when blocking calls, the FCC will push for “safe harbor” to protect Carriers from litigation, either criminal or civil.

As Commissioner Rosenworcel stated, “If you need to break things to get this done, just ask.” This was my second favorite quote of hers on the day, finishing slightly behind “I DON’T BELIEVE IN PARTICIPATION TROPHIES.” The FCC should hire Mike Gundy.

 

6.     The Carriers are Expected to Foot the Bill

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So it’s easy to agree in theory that RoboCalls and Call Spoofing are bad. It’s even somewhat easy to agree on the technology that’s most effective for stopping said calls. Where things get tricky is identifying how, and who, exactly, will be paying for the R&D, technology, training, and deployment. Luckily, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler laid out the government’s position pretty clearly:

The Carriers will be expected to foot the bill, as stopping RoboCalls is “the cost of doing business” and falls under the umbrella of supplying a high-quality service.

It will be interesting to see what impact that stance will have on timelines, innovation, and deployment.