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State Attorneys General and Voice Service Providers Agree on Anti-Robocall Principles

On August 22, 2019, all 50 State Attorneys General, plus the District of Columbia, as well as 12 major voice service providers, announced a set of Anti-Robocall Principles they have agreed to implement, or continue to implement, for combating illegal and unwanted robocalls. 

The voice service providers participating in this agreement are AT&T Services, Inc., Bandwidth Inc., CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Inc., Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Inc., Frontier Communications Corporation, Sprint, T-Mobile USA, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and Windstream Services, LLC.

The purpose of the agreement is for voice service providers to implement eight principles to aid the state Attorneys General combat illegal robocalls. Pursuant to the announcement, the partnership is “committed to stopping illegal and unwanted robocalls for the American people.”  This would be achieved by “implementing call blocking technology, knowing their customers, actively monitoring their networks for robocall traffic, cooperating in investigations that trace the origins of illegal robocalls, and integrating other practices.”

Despite the well-intended nature of this agreement, the principles are broad and will likely result in non-standardized implementation. There is no deadline to complete their implementation, and the agreement contains a disclaimer stating that failure to adhere to the principles is not in itself a basis for liability. It will also be interesting to see how these principles play out for other smaller voice carriers who were not involved in this agreement, as well as for businesses and platform providers who are legally trying to contact customers but end up tangled in misapplication of these principles. 

THE EIGHT ANTI-ROBOCALL PRINCIPLES

The voice service providers agreed to incorporate, or continue to incorporate, the following Anti-Robocall Principles into their business practices:

  1. Offer Free Call Blocking and Labeling. For smartphone mobile and VoIP residential customers, make available free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools. For all types of customers, implement network-level call blocking at no charge. 

  2. Implement STIR/SHAKEN call authentication. STIR/SHAKEN describes a set of technical standards and operating procedures for implementing call authentication for calls carried over an Internet Protocol network. The STIR/SHAKEN framework will enable originating voice service providers to attest to the validity of asserted caller IDs and sign outbound calls with a secure signature or certificate that cannot be faked. The terminating service provider will use the security certificate to validate that the caller ID attestation has not been compromised.  

  3. Analyze and Monitor Network Traffic. Analyze high-volume voice network traffic to identify and monitor patterns consistent with robocalls. 

  4. Investigate Suspicious Calls and Calling Patterns. If a provider detects a pattern consistent with illegal robocalls, or if a provider otherwise has reason to suspect illegal robocalling or spoofing is taking place over its network, seek to identify the party that is using its network to originate, route, or terminate these calls and take appropriate action. 

  5. Confirm the Identity of Commercial Customers. Confirm the identity of new commercial VoIP customers by collecting relevant identity information. 

  6. Require Traceback Cooperation in Contracts.  For all new and renegotiated contracts governing the transport of voice calls, use best efforts 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.  Traceback is the process of determining the origin of a call, which can be used to find the source of robocalls and, thus, the entities responsible for those calls.

  7. Cooperate in Traceback Investigations. To allow for timely and comprehensive law enforcement efforts against illegal robocallers, dedicate sufficient resources to provide prompt and complete responses to traceback requests from law enforcement and from USTelecom’s Industry   Traceback Group. 

  8. Communicate with State Attorneys General. Communicate and cooperate with state Attorneys General about recognized scams and trends in illegal robocalling.

FCC SUPPORT

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has continuously called for industry-led methods to combat robocalls, and immediately issued a statement recognizing and supporting the agreement containing the anti-robocall principles.

Chairman Pai’s statement saluted the “bipartisan, nationwide effort to encourage best practices for combating robocalls and spoofing and [was] pleased that several voice service providers have agreed to abide by them.”

Likewise, he recognized that the principles align with the FCC’s anti-robocalling and spoofing efforts, such as the “rules to apply anti-spoofing prohibitions to international calls,” “adoption of caller ID authentication using SHAKEN/STIR standards,” and “blocking of unwanted robocalls by default.”

Copyright © 2020 Womble Bond Dickinson (US) LLP All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume IX, Number 240

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Our interdisciplinary Communications, Technology and Media team is comprised of lawyers with extensive experience in telecommunications, broadband, cable, broadcast, spectrum matters, program distribution, tower and facilities deployment, and all facets of the Internet and the broadband-enabled, Internet-of-things technologies that drive our connected economy. Our team also includes experienced telecommunications litigators adept at translating complex technologies and regulations to juries, judges, and arbitrators.

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