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Proposed Legislation May Put a Stop to Robocalls But Will Impose Additional Considerations for Service Providers and the Telecom Industry

In the next month, Congress intends to present the President with legislation to combat robocalls, which will require service providers to provide a software to consumers aimed at re-establishing trust in the communications ecosystem.

The software, known as Secure Telephone Identity Revisited (STIR) and the Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs (SHAKEN) are telecom industry standards, which enable telephone service providers to cryptographically interpret robocalls. To enable the SHAKEN/STIR software, telephone service providers must obtain a digital “certificate” for each telephone number that it issues. When calls are placed, carriers exchange these tokens, which allows the carrier delivering the call to determine whether the call originated from an authentic source. Consumers will then be able to view an indicator on their phone screen as to whether the call had been spoofed or from an authentic source. From what is available on the legislation thus far, it appears that consumers will not have to pay for the added software.

The SHAKEN/STIR software is intended to minimize the number of robocalls inundating cell phones today. American’s cell phones are overwhelmed with daily scammers disguised as debt collectors for health insurance, student loans, and even federal and state taxes. Today, with more than 200,000 complaints each year, unwanted robocalls are the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) most common consumer complaint. To put this in perspective, nearly 48 billion robocalls were made in the United States in 2018, which amounts to a 57% increase from 2017.

To further combat this ever-growing epidemic, earlier this month, the House and Senate committee leaders announced a deal on anti-robocall legislation, which will be known as the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act (the Act). The Act will incorporate provisions from the House’s Stopping Bad Robocalls Act and the Senate’s TRACED Act. The goal is for the piece of legislation to be signed into law by the President.

The Senate’s Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence, or TRACED Act, would expand the FCC’s ability to pursue robocall violators with a three-year statute of limitations instead of the current one year, as well as impose fines up to $10,000 per illegal call. Service providers would need to adopt a call authentication procedure, like SHAKEN/STIR, which would make it harder for scammers to reach the consumer.

The House’s Stopping Bad Robocalls Act would add new consumer protections along with heightened penalties on scammers. Under the Act, telecom providers would be mandated to implement a caller ID authentication technology, like SHAKEN/STIR, which would aid in blocking such scammers. Rather than the one-year statute of limitations, the FCC would also have three years to go after violators and intentional violations could incur up to $10,000 in penalties.

Portions from the House and Senate’s versions will be included in the final Act, the language of which is still being decided. Ultimately, the Act will require telephone carriers to verify calls as they come in, implementing SHAKEN/STIR, and block any robocalls without the consumer having to pay anything extra. The Act has the potential to provide relief to consumers with heightened penalties and the FCC’s and law enforcement’s ability to quickly go after scammers.

However, legislation may not be the only mechanism through which service providers will be impacted. In fact, if carriers are unable to move fast enough in implementing SHAKEN/STIR before the end of the year, the FCC is working to implement robocall-screening caller ID measures. This rule would impose punishments upon carriers that have not implemented caller ID transparency and quality standards of SHAKEN/STIR by the end of 2019.

As the next month unfolds, stay tuned for updates on the FCC regulation and how the Act may impact you as a service provider.

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