FCC looks to mandate STIR/SHAKEN to battle robocalls

Voice service providers would have to implement STIR/SHAKEN technology by June 30, 2021. (Getty Images)

As part of efforts to combat robocalls, the FCC will vote this month on a proposal that would require voice providers implement caller ID authentication technology across their IP networks by next year.

The FCC had already directed carriers last June to voluntarily deploy the STIR/SHAKEN call authentication protocol, and proposed mandating implementation if they failed to do so by the end of 2019.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced the new proposal last week, which is now on the agency’s March meeting agenda. In a statement, Pai indicated that while a number of major phone companies adopted the framework, more widespread deployment is necessary to fight the flood of spoofed robocalls.

“It’s clear that FCC action is needed to spur across-the-board deployment of this important technology,” Pai said in a statement. “There is no silver bullet when it comes to eradicating robocalls, but this is a critical shot at the target.”

The chairman’s proposal applies to originating and terminating voice service providers and sets an implementation deadline of June 30, 2021.

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The deadline is also consistent with the TRACED Act passed by Congress and signed into law last year. The bipartisan legislation targeting robocalls in part directs the FCC to require phone companies to deploy STIR/SHAKEN in their networks within 18 months of the laws’ enactment. The FCC is also considering giving small and rural providers a one-year extension to the deadline as long as they implement a program to mitigate robocalls.

With STIR/SHAKEN technology, providers can verify that a caller ID information on a particular call is authentic and actually matches the number that will show up to the person receiving call. This takes aim at illegal spoofing, where illegal robocalls appear to originate from legitimate phone numbers. STIR/SHAKEN can help service providers identify illegally spoofed calls even before they reach subscribers, and also help law enforcement identify bad actors more easily, the FCC says

As T-Mobile and Sprint near the finish line on their merger, the pair last month announced they’re delivering STIR/SHAKEN verification across networks. T-Mobile and AT&T announced similar cross-network authentication last year.  Along with Verizon, those carriers have also collaborated with Comcast on STIR/SHAKEN authentication. 

RELATED: FCC Commissioner unimpressed with carriers’ actions against robocalls

Most American consumers are familiar with the daily scourge of robocalls. Two months into 2020, nearly 9.6 billion robocalls had been placed already nationwide, according to YouMail Index. In 2019, Americans were bombarded with an estimated 58.5 billion robocalls nationwide.  

The FCC has taken some action in the last year, including authorizing telcos to provide call blocking services automatically without the need for customers to opt in, and extending anti-spoofing rules to apply to text messages and international calls.

Still, the agency says widespread implementation of STIR/SHAKEN is a key part of realizing more than $3 billion in annual benefits that the agency estimates would come from eliminating wasted time and nuisance caused by illegal scam robocalls.

In addition, STIR/SHAKEN when combined with other call analytics technology could help protect consumers from robocall fraud schemes, which the agency estimates cost Americans about $10 billion each year.

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“All of us are fed up with robocalls—including me,” said Chairman Pai. “We’ve taken many steps to stem the tide of spoofed robocalls. I’m excited about the proposal I’m advancing today: requiring phone companies to adopt a caller ID authentication framework called STIR/SHAKEN. Widespread implementation will give American consumers a lot more peace of mind when they pick up the phone.”

The FCC will vote on the STIR/SHAKEN proposal at its March 31 meeting. The agency is seeking comment on whether to require intermediate providers implement STIR/SHAKEN protocols as well. 

In addition, a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would seek public comment on executing other provisions of the TRACED Act. Those include prohibiting phone companies from charging customers and small businesses for caller ID authentication; establishing a process where phone companies could be exempt from the STIR/SHAKEN requirement if the provider achieves certain implementation benchmarks; and requiring voice providers that don’t have IP networks to either upgrade their network to IP so they can use STIR/SHAKEN or work to develop a non-IP caller ID authentication technology.