Twelve of the nation's largest telephone companies pledged Thursday to implement new technology to detect and block robocalls, part of a deal brokered by industry and 51 lawyers to fight the growing telecoms industry.
The new effort announced in Washington commits a wide range of companies in the absence of regulation to improve their defenses and assist law enforcement in the investigation of illegal spam calls, which ringed Americans' phones estimated at 4.7 billion times in July.
Under the agreement, the 12 carriers have agreed to implement call blocking technology, make anti-robocall tools available to consumers free of charge and distribute a new system that will mark conversations as real or spam. The technology, known by the abbreviation STIR / SHAKEN, aims at a practice known as forgery, in which scammers mask their identity by using phone numbers similar to the ones they try to contact to get victims to retrieve and surrender their personal information.
Signing the pledge are major mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, who have already stated that they will implement such robocall protection and have in some cases begun testing them around the country. . Other carriers adopting the pledge include Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Consolidated, Frontier, U.S. Cellular and Windstream.
There is no time limit for these telecommunications companies to have new robocall protection in place. But Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general and one of the architects for the deal, told The Washington Post ahead of the announcement that "the expectation is that they will all implement them as soon as it is convenient."
"Illegal robocalls harass and harm our people. There is no silver bullet to stop them, but these anti-robocall principles represent a dramatic step forward," he added in an interview.
Thus, North Carolina, along with the rest of the country's attorneys general, said their efforts would improve the government's ability to find and punish fraudsters who continue to call consumers in record numbers. Robocalls represents one of the top complaints received by the federal government, increasing pressure on state and federal regulators to step up its work and end the flood.
In June, state and federal authorities announced 94 enforcement actions against illegal robocallers that allegedly placed an estimated 1 billion robocalls to consumers, a move they said signaled their increased interest in combating such scams. Some of the calls attempted to trick people into paying fees or surrendering their personal information for fraudulent services, such as lowering credit card rates or providing health insurance assistance.
The government's top telecommunications agency, the Federal Communications Commission, has also launched a series of reforms to help consumers ease and enact rules this summer that pave the way for carriers to register customers as the standard for blocking technology. The agency did not require these services to be offered for free, although FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged the industry to provide robocall protection at no cost.
Even more robust reforms are awaiting action on Capitol Hill, where legislators in the House and Senate have each passed their own bills in recent months. If they can find agreement, they can adopt the country's first anti-robocall law in decades, mandating industry-wide call authentication technologies, while giving state and federal investigators the opportunity to be tougher in their enforcement actions.
Thursday, Stein in North Carolina said the state's goal is to "catalyze industry efforts to make progress in quitting robocalls, adding:" We do not want our efforts to be contingent on Congressional action. "