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AT&T, Verizon Among Telcos on Task Force to Fight Robocalls

Regulation

Edward GatelyAT&T and more than 30 telcos have teamed up to develop standards and procedures to fight robocalls.

The Federal Communications Commission hosted the first meeting of the Robocall Strike Force on Aug. 19. In addition to AT&T, Apple, Verizon, CenturyLink, Charter, Cox, Frontier, Level 3 and Windstream are among the task force members.

A robocall, for example, can be a call from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service, and saying you owe the government money and will be arrested unless you pay immediately.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the No. 1 complaint his agency receives from consumers is robocalls.

“We receive more than 200,000 complaints a year,” he said. “Americans are right to be fed up with robocalls. They are an invasion of privacy, and this scourge is rife with fraud and identity theft. The problem is that the bad guys are beating the good guys with technology right now. Voice over IP calls from scammers in foreign countries rely on networks that aren’t ready to deal with them. The ability to spoof a legitimate phone number is a downside to a digital environment. Let me reiterate that this isn’t just a network problem. This is a community problem. This has to do with those who build and operate networks, those who build and operate equipment, those who build and operate services.”{ad}

Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chairman and CEO, is heading the task force, which he said represents the “entire communications ecosystem.”

“This is going to require more than individual company initiatives and one-off blocking apps,” he said. “Robocallers are a formidable adversary, notoriously hard to stop. And technology such as spoofing makes it easier for them to work around our various fixes and hide their tracks. So far, we’ve all been coming at this problem piecemeal with limited success, because robocalls continue to increase.”

Rich Young, Verizon spokesman, said the telco is planning to participate in each of the task force’s working groups.

“Verizon agrees that more needs to be done and is committed to working with other stakeholders on the Strike Force to advance industry collaboration to address the problem,” he said. “We are eager to work towards solutions that will help empower our customers.”

“Level 3 commends Chairman Wheeler for his call to industry to work together to attack the scourge of unwanted robocalls,” added Joseph Cavender, VP and assistant general counsel for federal affairs at Level 3 Communications. “We all understand that this is a complex problem, and there will be no easy answer. But we’re pleased to be working with our partners across the communications ecosystem to fight back against these annoying, often fraudulent calls.”

At Wheeler’s request, task force members have agreed to:

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conform to VoIP caller ID verification standards as soon as they are made available by the standards setting groups; work together with the industry to evaluate the feasibility of a “Do Not Originate” list; further develop and implement tools to detect, assess and stop unwanted calls from reaching customers; and facilitate efforts by other carriers to adopt call-blocking technologies on their networks.

“While many people like to portray this as a simple issue to address, it isn’t,” Stephenson said. “These unwanted calls span a wide range. We have calls that are perfectly legal, but unwanted, like telemarketers and public-opinion surveyors. At the other end of the spectrum, we have millions of calls that are blatantly illegal. They are violating the Do Not Call registry or, worse, trying to steal your money or identity. This is where government has an important role to play. In parallel with technological solutions, we need our regulatory and law enforcement agencies to go after the bad actors.”

The task force will report back to the FCC by Oct. 19. The report will include “concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions, and make recommendations to the FCC on the role government should play in this battle,” he said.

“You’ve got a group that’s going to be working on the tools to allow third parties to develop call-filtering options,” Wheeler said. “That starts with open APIs, but let’s give folks the opportunity to get creative and find solutions. There must also be cross-carrier joint efforts to detect and stop the bad guys. Maybe it’s a ‘Do Not Originate’ list. Maybe you’ll come up with something better. But this is something that has to be multi-carrier, cross-carrier, and a community solution.”


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