In its latest step to fight illegal robocalls, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules requiring phone companies implement the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication protocol in their IP networks.
Reflecting the changing circumstances for many Americans and businesses as much of the country is under stay-at-home orders during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the FCC’s open meeting today was held via teleconference, with all items adopted ahead of time and deleted from the agenda.
The STIR/SHAKEN mandate (PDF) was approved unanimously, and the order sets a June 30, 2021 implementation deadline for all originating and terminating voice service providers. The agency is seeking comment on a proposal to extend the deadline for small voice service providers, as well as to require caller ID verification on non-IP voice networks, and expand the STIR/SHAKEN mandate to include intermediate voice service providers.
Today’s decision and deadline for the STIR/SHAKEN mandate carries out provisions laid out by Congress in the TRACED Act. The bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and recently signed into law gave the FCC additional authority in actions to fight illegal robocalls.
Illegal spoofing is one of the techniques robocallers use to trick consumers into answering a call, where caller ID shows that a call is originating from a legitimate phone number rather than its true source.
The STIR/SHAKEN technical standard allows phone companies to authenticate that the caller ID info transmitted actually matches the caller’s true phone number. With widespread deployment, the FCC said STIR/SHAKEN can help voice providers identify illegally spoofed phone numbers before those calls even reach consumers, as well as enable law enforcement to identify perpetrators more easily.
Last summer the agency directed voice providers to voluntarily put the technology in place, and sought public input on mandating implementation if companies didn’t start to do so on their own by the end of 2019.
Commissioner Geoffrey Starks in his statement acknowledged the new rule is a good start, but said there is more to do, pointing to the need for STIR/SHAKEN in non-IP portions of networks.
“To be fully effective against this scourge, we need all voice service providers to implement call authentication and other measures to combat illegal spoofing in all networks as soon as possible,” stated Starks. “That means continuing to work with the industry to implement effective methods for tracing back illegal spoofed calls and text messages to their original sources, and following through on enforcement to the full extent of our statutory authority.”
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly approved the requirement, but in his statement said the undertaking will add costs to providers and ultimately customers. Up-front costs could “exceed tens of millions of dollars” for some providers, according to O’Rielly, which he indicated could later be passed on to consumers through plans despite provisions that prohibit line-item charges for caller ID authentication.
The FCC estimates eliminating wasted time and nuisance from illegal robocall scams could result in $3 billion in cost savings annually, and protect Americans from robocall schemes that take approximately $10 billion from consumers each year.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworsel, while calling the new measure good news, said she wished it had been done sooner. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, robocalls appear to be multiplying.
“We are seeing alarming reports of an increase in calls from scam artists hawking fraudulent cures and taking advantage of so many people in so many households who are stuck at home,” said Rosenworcel her statement. “So, let me state this as clearly as a I can: there should be swift and harsh action holding accountable those preying on the vulnerable during this disaster.”
Robocallers have even been targeting hospitals at a time when many are facing immense strain during the coronavirus crisis. Last week the FCC launched (PDF) Hospital Robocall Protection Group, which is a federal advisory committee focused on issuing best practices for phone companies to fight illegal robocalls clogging up hospital lines, and how healthcare facilities can better protect themselves.