STIR/SHAKEN, FCC and telecom industry all contribute to 2022 robocall mitigation (Reader Forum)

Twenty twenty-two was a year of tangible improvement when it came to robocalls. There were two main factors responsible for this decrease. First, Tier-1 carriers continued to progress with their STIR/SHAKEN implementations, which allowed for more visibility into bad actors’ tactics. Second, with an increased understanding of operators’ networks, the FCC was able to target bad actors more aggressively with regulatory enforcement action. 

While robocall mitigation progress has been made, the US midterm election season was a reminder that blocking nuisance and high-risk robocalls is just half the battle. Legitimate political robocalls bombarded voters over the 10 weeks leading up to Election Day. And while most of these robocalls are technically legal, the constant barrage is highly unwelcome. Moving forward, carriers will need to help their customers better identify who’s calling them via branded calling solutions, so people are better equipped to engage and answer wanted legitimate calls and ignore the unwanted ones.

Carrier and enterprise deployments of branded calling are in focus as the calendar turns to 2023. It’s also critical to build on the positive momentum as the industry approaches the next (and probably last) STIR/SHAKEN implementation date in June 2023 for smaller carriers.

STIR/SHAKEN implementation

Let’s start with the good news: Tier-1 carrier implementation of STIR/SHAKEN affirms it is working for them and their subscribers. Less than 10% of unwanted robocalls come from Tier-1 telephone numbers, despite these networks accounting for more than 75% of inter-carrier traffic.

Further, more than 76% of the total wanted intercarrier calls were signed as of October 2022, an increase of 11% from December 2021.

Together with the FCC, carriers have continued to ensure and expand successful STIR/SHAKEN implementations. The positive results from this increased cooperation have made the telecom industry feel optimistic that when the smaller, facility-based providers implement STIR/SHAKEN ahead of next year’s June deadline, robocall mitigation efforts will take another step forward.

Also looming as the calendar turns to a new year are stiff non-compliance penalties for those that do not move forward with STIR/SHAKEN implementation by the June deadline. That said, the FCC, buoyed by the first wave of STIR/SHAKEN implementation, will remain aggressive in holding service providers accountable for robocall traffic originating on their networks.

Policy and regulatory enforcement goes local

With the FCC Robocall Mitigation Database and STIR/SHAKEN, Tier-1 carriers have been more aggressive in their tracing efforts to source the origins of robocalls. Through these ongoing traceback initiatives, the FCC has been able to identify carriers that have misrepresented their STIR/SHAKEN claims. Those guilty parties have been threatened with removal from the Robocall Mitigation Database, and ultimately, expulsion from America’s phone networks. The FCC is sending a clear message: It will not tolerate providers that do not track robocall activity on their networks.

Additionally, attorney generals from all 50 states have stepped up efforts and worked alongside the FCC. Led by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, among others, the Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force was created to investigate the telecom providers responsible for robocalls. Their first order of business? Targeting ‘gateway providers’ that bring foreign robocalls into the US.

These efforts illustrate the collaborative emphasis being placed on robocall mitigation in 2022 by the entire telecommunications ecosystem to protect subscribers from dangerous robocalls and robotexts.

Bad actors turn to robotexts

Due to increased oversight by the FCC on the voice network, bad actors have continued to alter their tactics. This year they increasingly focused on robotext campaigns. More specifically, bad actors capitalized on disposable, text-enabled ten-digit telephone numbers that can easily be obtained through web-based services or pre-paid SIM Cards.

Data shows nearly half of the robotext scams during the first half of the year originated from bad actors using snowshoe messaging techniques, where the sender spreads their attack across multiple telephone numbers.

Spam calls rise ahead of 2022 midterm elections

Another even-numbered year means millions of election-related robocalls and robotexts hitting the phones of US voters. In the ten weeks leading up to Election Day, Americans received almost 30 million political robocalls – many targeting Americans in battleground states where the stakes are highest. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Arizona each saw more than one million robocalls in the last nine weeks before Election Day.

These political robocalls and robotexts present challenges for voters and regulators. Voters, for their part, lack clarity on what legitimate robocalls/robotexts can legally send and how they can opt-out of these robocalls and texts. In fact, the three most common political robocall complaints from voters this election season were around legitimate political campaigns and donation solicitations, specifically political surveys, actual political candidate solicitations or calls to action and political action committees.

While positive progress was made in 2022, the onslaught of political robocalls makes it difficult for subscribers to feel any tangible difference.

A look ahead to 2023

2023 will be another critical year for the telecoms industry it works towards the final STIR/SHAKEN implementation deadline in June.The telecommunications industry will face another critical year when we close the calendar on 2022 and turn to 2023 as it works towards the presumed final STIR/SHAKEN implementation deadline in June.

Smaller facility-based carriers will be required to implement STIR/SHAKEN by the year’s halfway point. With further insights into the smaller carriers’ mitigation efforts, the FCC will gain more visibility of carrier network traffic and offer a better understanding of what bad actors are originating calls on those networks.

Branded calling solutions will continue to be high on the agenda for carriers and enterprises as efforts are made to restore trust in voice calling and better equip customers with the information needed to answer legitimate calls and ignore unwanted ones.

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