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According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2016, U.S. consumers received approximately 2.5 billion unwanted “robocalls” per month and they are allegedly growing at a rate of roughly 9%. Many of these unwanted phone calls were placed outside legally permissible calling hours, deemed intrusive by the call recipient, and tied to fraudulent schemes, while many were placed to a consumers’ smartphones and other mobile devices. The average American received over seven (7) calls in 2016 and around 965 Robocalls were placed every second. As a result, robocall complaints were up more than 32 percent in 2017 and have quintupled since 2009. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that unwanted and illegal robocalls is their number one complaint with more than 4.5 million robocall complaints, plus an additional 2.5 million complaints about live telemarketing calls, in 2017 alone.

In response to the growing public outcry, the FCC formed a task force to find a technological solution to block unwanted robocalls that consisted of 33 wireline, wireless and switching infrastructure and other technology providers, as well as over 100 of the leading minds in the industry, to:

  • work collaboratively,
  • establish a framework to help solve the problem of robocalls, and
  • test a “Do Not Originate” list to block unwanted calls from ever connecting to a consumer.

The list of participants involved the who’s who of industry, including Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Syniverse and others telco provider.

The goal of the task force was a standard framework for today’s VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) networks to communicate with one another and to better share more information about a telephone call and its originator as it transverses from the originating telephone network to far-end network for ultimate call termination to a consumer. Using this framework, the FCC looked towards the telecom industry and its leaders to leverage the newer VoIP and SIP approach and call authentication to combat robocalls, Caller ID Spoofing (the act of manipulating Caller ID and the telephonic network level to display a number that is different than the actual originating number), and other less than desirable telemarketing practices.

The authentication of the call leverages the “SHAKEN” and “STIR” standards. SHAKEN (Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephony Identity Revisited) are protocols created to combat Caller ID Spoofing methods used by “bad actors” in an effort to increase the chances that a consumer will answer a call on the far-end.

SHAKEN is a framework to implement the protocols produced by STIR.

STIR defines a digital signature to verify the Calling Number and specifies how it will be transported in SIP. This information is used by telephone service providers on the far end to verify the call’s authenticity.

Using SHAKEN and STIR, the call is authenticated by the Calling Party’s (“caller”) telephone service provider that digitally signs the Calling Number. The Called Party’s (“consumer”) telephone service provider validates the digital signature to verify the Calling Party’s identity.

The SHAKEN governance framework defines how telephone service providers are authenticated and authorized by a certificate authority to digitally secure the Calling Number of telephone calls.

For the first time, SHAKEN and STIR offers a workable process for telephone service providers to verified information about the Calling Party and the origin of a call at a network level.

In September 2017, Metaswitch, a leading cloud communications provider, announced that it is the first vendor to have completed tests of a SHAKEN and STIR Caller ID authentication solution in the testbed hosted by the Neustar Trust Lab, and many more will continue to follow.

The telephony industry and its providers have publicly committed to slowing the scourge of unwanted robocalls and “on-the-record,” their support in unwavering. It is important to note that there is nothing in the new rules that prohibits telephone companies from charging their customers to block the calls.

USTelecom, the leading trade association representing service providers and suppliers for the telecommunications industry, submitted comments in response to FCC Notice of Inquiry on call authentication stating that both they and their member companies providing broadband, voice, data and video services over wireline and wireless networks fully support industry-led efforts to develop and deploy the SHAKEN and STIR standards and best-practice implementations.

This past November, the FCC approved new rules meant to protect consumers from unwanted Robocalls that provide telephone carriers the authority to block calls that are likely to be fraudulent based on the originating phone number. The FCC cites advancements in technology used by robocallers to hide the caller’s true identity and the true purpose of their calls (known as spoofing) as the motivation for these new rules. Under the new rules, telephone service providers are expressly authorized to block Robocalls from the follow types of telephone numbers:

  • Numbers that do not or cannot make outgoing calls
  • Numbers enrolled on a “Do Not Originate” list by the number’s subscriber
  • Numbers that are purporting to be from invalid numbers, like those with area codes that don’t exist, from numbers that have not been assigned to a provider, and from numbers allocated to a provider but not currently in use

The rules also prohibit providers from blocking 911 emergency calls.

Like any new technology or methodology to solving a problem, the new “Call Blocking” rules are not without some hurdles. There have been increasing reports from legitimate industry callers (the “good actors”) claiming that calls to their existing client and prospects whom have opted in to be contacted for sales or servicing purposes are being mistakenly blocked by some participating telephone service providers, the early “Call Blocking” adopters. Further adding to the angst felt by some that use the telephone for lawful consumer outreach, there is no clearly defined process for removing those legitimate Caller IDs from identified “Robocall” or “Scam” blocked lists.

However, the FCC has recommended that telephone carriers explore and implement a process to properly identify and minimize the blocking of lawful calls.

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