FCC will ‘take action’ in 2019 if carriers aren’t doing enough to fight robocalls

Ajit Pai and the FCC’s commissioners are growing as incensed and fed up with robocalls as the rest of us. Today, Pai sent a letter to over a dozen US mobile providers urging them to deploy an industry-wide method of combatting the automated nuisance calls — or else. “By this time next year, I expect that consumers will begin to see this on their phones,” Pai said in a press release.

“Carriers need to continue working together to make this happen and I am calling on those falling behind to catch up.” He added that “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.”

Pai is referring to a form of call authentication that would “sign” and validate legitimate phone calls across cellular networks, ignoring the billions of spam calls — yes, billions — that are pestering consumers monthly. One of the biggest annoyances with robocalls is caller ID spoofing, when the spammers make it look as though a local number is behind the call. The FCC wants carriers nationwide to implement a system that would work across their networks to weed out bogus calls. It calls this the SHAKEN/STIR framework:

The 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 14 letters sent out today are addressed to the CEOs of major telecom companies including Hans Vesterberg (Verizon), John Donovan (AT&T), John Legere (T-Mobile), Brian Roberts (Comcast), Tom Rutledge (Charter), and more. Google’s Sundar Pichai also got one, presumably owing to the company’s Project Fi business. “If industry starts to fall behind, the commission stands ready to ensure widespread deployment to hit this important technological milestone,” the FCC said in its release. “And the commission is considering additional actions — such as authorizing voice providers to block the delivery of unsigned or improperly signed calls to consumers — that would stem the flow of illegally spoofed robocalls to American consumers.”

Carriers already insist they’re working behind the scenes to shut out robocallers and prevent unwanted interruptions. But it’s clearly not enough. For now, there are apps and services that can help you maintain your sanity in confronting what feels like a non-stop barrage of scam calls that’s only growing worse every week.