AT&T-Led Strike Force Takes On 'Scourge' of Robocalling

Carriers, developers, device makers and regulators have joined together to find a technical solution to robocalls, harassing, prerecorded calls pushed by scammers.


AT&T, Alphabet, Apple and 30 other technology and communications companies have joined the Federal Communications Commission in an effort to eliminate robocalls. Described as "a scourge" by the FCC, those irritating, automated, prerecorded calls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the FCC.

Members of a newly formed Robocall Strike Force, led by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, met for the first time Aug. 19.

"What we're going to have to do is come out of this meeting with a comprehensive playbook that we all go out and begin to execute," Stephenson told the assembled members Friday.

They included carriers, device makers, OS developers, network designers, regulators and lawmakers.

The playbook they develop may include caller ID verification standards and a "do not originate" list that would block robocallers from spoofing phone numbers from government, banking and other institutions. According to the Consumers Union, robocallers, impersonating legitimate institutions, scam Americans out of $350 million a year.

"We receive more than 200,000 complaints a year. Americans are right to be fed up with robocalls. They are an invasion of privacy, and this scourge is rife with fraud and identity theft," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told the group.

"The problem is that the bad guys are beating the good guys with technology right now," he continued. "Voice over Internet Protocol calls from scammers in foreign countries rely on networks that aren't ready to deal with them."

For this reason, Wheeler and Stephenson insisted, it's critical to have the participation of the entire industry.

"This isn't just a network problem. This is a community problem," said Wheeler. "This has to do with those who build and operate networks, those who build and operate equipment, those who build and operate services. And that's why it's significant that you're all collectively here at this table."

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in prepared remarks, noted that the FCC took steps toward a solution last summer, adopting a proposal that reiterated consumers' rights to control the calls they receive and giving providers the right to implement robocall-blocking technologies. Additionally, last month, the FCC sent letters to the major wireless carriers, urging them to offer free call-blocking services to consumers.

"The Commission has a long history of prohibiting abusive or anticompetitive use of call-blocking technology," said Clyburn, "but consumers want real relief and I am optimistic that beginning with today's conversation, we will be able to deliver to consumers the change they are clamoring for."

To that end, Wheeler promised that the FCC will act swiftly to aid in whatever ways it's asked to. And he encouraged speed over perfection, saying that in a pressing challenge like this one, "perfect is the enemy of the good."

"Let's not sit around and wait for the ultimate solution," Wheeler said. "Let's start solving the issues immediately. And let's improve it tomorrow. And then make it even better the day after tomorrow."

The Strike Force has promised to deliver an action plan to the FCC by Oct. 19.