Regulator Demands Companies Take Action to Halt ‘Robocalls’

November 5, 2018 Updated: November 6, 2018

WASHINGTON—Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Nov. 5 wrote the chief executives of major telephone service providers and other companies, demanding they launch a system no later than 2019 to combat billions of “robocalls” and other nuisance calls received monthly by American consumers.

In May, Pai called on companies to adopt an industry-developed “call authentication system” or standard for the cryptographic signing of telephone calls aimed at ending the use of illegitimate spoofed numbers from the telephone system. Pai’s letters seek answers by Nov. 19 on the status of those efforts.

The letters went to 13 companies including AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., T-Mobile US Inc., Alphabet Inc., Comcast Corp., Cox Communications Inc., Sprint Corp., CenturyLink Inc., Charter Communications Inc., and Bandwith Inc.

The letters raised concerns about some companies current efforts, saying they do “not yet have concrete plans to implement a robust call authentication framework,” citing FCC staff. These companies included Sprint, CenturyLink, Charter, Vonage, Telephone and Data Systems Inc. and its United States Cellular Corp. unit, and Frontier Communications Corp.

The authentication framework “digitally validates the handoff of phone calls passing through the complex web of networks, allowing the phone company of the consumer receiving the call to verify that a call is from the person supposedly making it,” the FCC said.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated there were 5.1 billion unwanted calls last month, up from 3.4 billon in April.

The FCC has taken a number of actions to try to deter robocalls or automated, prerecorded calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge.”

“We need call authentication to become a reality—it’s the best way to ensure that consumers can answer their phones with confidence. By this time next year, I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones,” Pai said.

“I am calling on those falling behind to catch up … If it does not appear that this system is on track to get up and running next year, then we will take action to make sure that it does.”

By David Shepardson