TR Daily State AGs Unveil Robocall Pact, Vow to Hold Carriers Responsible
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Thursday, August 22, 2019

State AGs Unveil Robocall Pact, Vow to Hold Carriers Responsible

The attorneys general of all 50 states and the District of Columbia and 12 major voice service providers have signed onto a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that calls for the service providers to cooperate in identifying and blocking illegal or fraudulent robocalls and providing information to enable AGs to take enforcement action against the robocallers.

The MOU lays out eight principles that the signatory voice service providers are expected to adhere to, including implementing the STIR/SHAKEN call authentication technology that the FCC has proposed to mandate if the industry doesn’t implement it on its own by year-end (TR Daily, June 6).

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D.) told reporters at a press conference in Washington this afternoon that if carriers whose networks are identified as the source of illegal robocalls “persist” in enabling such calls, “we’ll hold them responsible.” He added that one path for legal action would be to bring lawsuits under state consumer protection statutes—commonly known as mini FTC Acts—that bar unfair and deceptive trade practices.

New Hampshire AG Gordon MacDonald (R.) said, “We need to get the information and the ability to identify the errant carriers so that we can use our existing authority.”

Mr. Stein also emphasized that the MOU was not the end of the AGs’ efforts to work with industry. “We will augment these principles as necessary,” he said.

Patrick Halley, senior vice president–policy and advocacy at USTelecom, who also participated in the press conference, responded to a question about how smaller carriers operating legacy networks that cannot accommodate STIR/SHAKEN would be incorporated into the plan by saying that “there is no single solution” and that smaller carriers could participate in steps such as call labeling and blocking. He also said that smaller carriers are not the problem when it comes to “generating” illegal robocalls, and that “the focus is on the intermediate companies” that transmit calls.

Asked about robocall bills pending in Congress, Mr. Stein said, “We would absolutely welcome congressional action in this regard, just as we welcomed action [by the FCC], but we don’t want to wait on Washington for anything.”

Mr. Halley also said that USTelecom has “been supportive of the legislation—both the House and the Senate bills.”

The voice service providers signing the MOU were AT&T Services, Inc., Bandwidth, Inc., CenturyLink, Inc., Charter Communications, Inc., Comcast Corp., Consolidated Communications, Inc., Frontier Communications Corp., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile USA, Inc., U.S. Cellular Corp., Verizon Communications, Inc., and Windstream Services, Inc.

In addition to implementing STIR/SHAKEN, the eight principles for signatory voice service providers in the MOU include offering smartphone and VoIP (voicer-over-Internet-protocol) service subscribers free call-blocking and call-labeling on incoming calls and free network-level call blocking for all types of service; analyzing and monitoring network traffic “to identify and monitor patterns consistent with robocalls”; and investigating suspicious calls and calling patterns, taking appropriate actions when indicated such as “initiating a traceback investigation, verifying that the originating commercial customer owns or is authorized to use the Caller ID number, determining whether the Caller ID name sent to a receiving party matches the customer’s corporate name, trademark, or d/b/a name, terminating the party’s ability to originate, route, or terminate calls on its network, and notifying law enforcement authorities.”

The principles also include confirming the identity of “new commercial VoIP customers by collecting information such as physical business location, contact person(s), state or country of incorporation, federal tax ID, and the nature of the customer’s business”; using “best efforts” in transport contract negotiations “to require cooperation in traceback investigations by identifying the upstream provider from which the suspected illegal robocall entered its network or by identifying its own customer if the call originated in its network”; cooperating in law enforcement traceback investigations and dedicating “sufficient resources to provide prompt and complete responses to traceback requests from law enforcement and from USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group”; and communicating and cooperating with state AGs “about recognized scams and trends in illegal robocalling” and “about potential additional solutions for combatting illegal robocalls.”

During the press conference, Mr. Stein, Mr. MacDonald, and Arkansas AG Leslie Rutledge (R.) emphasized the financial injuries suffered by residents of their states as a result of fraudulent robocalls. The elderly are especially vulnerable, Mr. MacDonald said, noting that New Hampshire has a disproportionately large over-65 population compared to the national average.

Mr. MacDonald added that while his office advises not to pick up the phone if they don’t recognize the phone number, this can also have potentially detrimental consequences, citing a woman awaiting a liver donation who did not answer a call that appeared to be from Florida but was actually from Massachusetts General Hospital alerting her that a liver was available. Fortunately, he noted, the hospital left a voice mail.

Responding to the announcement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Few things can bring together policy leaders across the political spectrum like the fight against unwanted robocalls. 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. It comes as no surprise to me that these leaders are dedicated to battling this scourge. Indeed, the FCC has a number of agreements with state officials to share information on robocalling and spoofing incidents, and I saw their dedication firsthand when I met with state attorneys general at their Consumer Protection Conference earlier this year. I thank them for their continued leadership and look forward to working together to help American consumers.”

Chairman Pai added, “These principles align with the FCC’s own anti-robocalling and spoofing efforts. Earlier this month, the FCC adopted rules to apply anti-spoofing prohibitions to international robocalls, as called for by many of these same state attorneys general. In addition, 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. The FCC is committed to working together with Congress, state leaders, and our federal partners to put an end to unwanted robocalls.”

In a joint statement, USTelecom, CTIA, and NCTA said, “Illegal robocalls are more than annoying, they are a deliberate attempt by criminals to flood voice networks with unwanted calls that scam, spoof and prey upon vulnerable consumers who are justifiably fed up. The member companies of USTelecom, CTIA and NCTA are taking action and aggressively responding to this threat with a variety of tools. We appreciate the efforts of the state attorneys general, the FCC, the FTC and other agencies to further collaboration that will hold the scammers behind these calls responsible for their actions.”

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield said, “NTCA appreciates the efforts by the state Attorneys General to tackle the issue of illegal and unwanted robocalls. NTCA member companies are community-oriented providers that take robocalling concerns very seriously and are committed to helping resolve the problem for their customers. Therefore, NTCA is supportive of the concepts addressed by the Anti-Robocall Principles and we look forward to working with policy makers to overcome remaining implementation obstacles so that rural operators can participate in the effort to eradicate illegal and unwanted robocalling.”

Joan Marsh, executive VP–regulatory and state external affairs at AT&T, said, “The fight against the scourge of illegal robocalls requires all hands on deck, and we welcome and appreciate the support of the state attorneys general.

“The NAAG [National Association of Attorneys General] principles align with much of what AT&T is already doing to protect our customers against illegal and unwanted calls. We offer our in-network, call blocking and labeling tool, AT&T Call Protect, at no charge to our customers. And we’ve recently partnered with other carriers to roll out cross-network call authentication based on SHAKEN/STIR standards, which in turn improves the effectiveness of AT&T Call protect by incorporating a new and valuable data source,” Ms. Marsh added.

“We remain committed to continuing to work with stakeholders at all levels of government and throughout the industry as we continue to fight this ongoing battle,” she concluded.

In a statement, Charter said, “Charter remains committed to ensuring that our customers have a broad range of tools to combat robocalls by implementing the SHAKEN/STIR call authentication protocol by the end of the year. We appreciate this State AG initiative led by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald and Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and their collaboration with voice service providers like us to take another important step to help protect consumers from harmful robocalls.”

Verizon SVP–public policy and government affairs Kathy Grillo said, “It’s imperative that we stand together on a common set of goals that include stopping callers from hiding their identities, working with other carriers on efforts to trace back illegal calls to the source, and keeping the originators from sending robocalls in the first place.”

In a statement, T-Mobile said, “We’ve given our customers free Scam Block since March 2017 and alerted them to an average of one billion Scam Likely calls per month. We were the first to deliver on the FCC-recommended STIR/SHAKEN on our network in January 2019 and today are the only ones delivering STIR/SHAKEN across two partner networks to customers. Not just testing, delivering.”

The company added, “We appreciate the state Attorneys Generals front line focus on this matter and we fully support the principles announced today. T-Mobile applauds their encouragement of innovation and collaboration to help end this assault on consumers.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

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