Phone Companies Ink Deal With All 50 States And D.C. To Combat Robocalls

Aug 23, 2019
Originally published on August 23, 2019 12:21 pm

AT&T, Sprint and Verizon and nine other telecommunications companies teamed up with attorneys general of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia to announce a new pact to eradicate a common scourge in America: illegal robocalls.

The agreement, which amounts to a set of anti-robocall principles, is aimed at combating and preventing the phone-ringing annoyance. Included in the deal is call-blocking technology that will be integrated into a dozen phone networks' existing infrastructure, at no additional charge to customers.

The tech giants will also provide other call blocking and call labeling for those customers who want more screening tools.

"We owe it to the most vulnerable in our communities to do everything in our power to protect them," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein said at an announcement in Washington on Thursday.

"Thanks to these prevention principles, our phones will ring less often."

Stein and other attorneys general who spoke at the press conference said that while robocalls regularly present hassles and interruptions for millions of Americans, in some instances, the calls can also be harmful.

"Robocalls are also a very effective device for illegal conduct," said New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

He added that robocallers prey on unsuspecting people. Once valuable personal and financial information is divulged, those duped individuals are at risk of losing "their savings, their identity and their security."

To get people to answer the phone, MacDonald said about 40 percent of the scammers resort to a tactic known as the "neighbor spoofing technique." That's where bilkers mask who they are by placing calls using the same area code and first three digits of their potential victim.

Under the plan, service providers will help provide technology, known to industry insiders as SHAKEN/STIR, to combat that practice and aid state attorney generals in locating and prosecuting the fraudulent robocallers.

The Federal Communications Commission describes the technology as allowing a phone network receiving a call to verify that it comes from the number it purports to before it reaches the customer.

"I salute today's bipartisan, nationwide effort to encourage best practices for combating robocalls and spoofing and am pleased that several voice service providers have agreed to abide by them," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.

The statement continued: "We continue to see progress toward adoption of caller ID authentication using SHAKEN/STIR standards. And our call blocking work has cleared the way for blocking of unwanted robocalls by default and of likely scam calls using non-existent phone numbers."

In June, the FCC encouraged phone carriers to block robocalls by default. As NPR has reported, prior to the ruling, many companies offered services to block robocalls, but consumers had to specifically make the request to their carriers and often pay extra for the service.

By one estimate nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in the U.S. last year alone. According to YouMail, which conducted the survey, that represented a nearly 57% increase in total robocall volume over 2017 figures.

Other companies that signed on the agreement announced on Thursday were: CenturyLink, Comcast, Frontier Communications Corporation, T-Mobile USA, Bandwidth Inc., Charter Communications, Consolidated Communications, U.S. Cellular and Windstream Services.

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