Beating Robocall 'Scourge' Won't Be Easy for FCC-Backed Strike Force

NEWS ANALYSIS: The level of attention to the problem of Robocalls from the FCC and other stakeholders is promising, but the complexity of this issue makes success questionable.

Robocall Strike Force 2

Everyone seems happy about the launch of the Robocall Strike Force, which AT&T is facilitating at the behest of the Federal Communications Commission.

They should be. While robocalls have been a growing problem for years, only now has the FCC managed to convince the major carriers, the major internet providers and the rest of the phone industry to take the problem seriously.

To this end, the FCC officially kicked off the operation on Aug. 19 to much ballyhoo and plenty of self-congratulatory statements. Theoretically, the group will have found the answer in time for the next meeting with the FCC on Oct. 19. Whether that hope will become reality remains to be seen.

But at least the promise of an end to robocalls won't fail due to a lack of earnest statements of concern about the problem and the need to find a solution.

"We know there is a problem," FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in her prepared statement for the meeting. "We know how much consumers dislike these calls. We know the public is frustrated, because they assumed that after they registered for the Do Not Call list, this would stop. It did not, so now it is time to take some real action."

In a rare display of bipartisan support, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai described his dismay at having robocalls interrupt a "Monday Night Football" telecast. "Artificial or prerecorded calls—"robocalls," as they're known—are awful," Pai said in his prepared statement.

"They're intrusive. They're unwanted. Many, like the recent wave of IRS-related robocalls, are a scam. Robocalls and telemarketing calls are the number one source of consumer complaints received by the FCC."

So now the Strike Force has been empowered to charge off and come up with a solution. Problem is, fixing the robocall problem is really hard. Robocall operations have been working on ways to evade the law for years now, using techniques such as spoofing their caller ID, calling from locations outside the United States where our laws don't apply, by entering the public switched telephone network from external VOIP connections, among other things.

Adding to the complexity is that phone service isn't delivered by a single entity. In addition to the traditional switched copper phone lines, there are VOIP phones and cell phones.

Each uses a different technology to connect a voice call and each of those methods has a different company behind it. Getting all of those players plus government interests to move in the same direction is a lot like herding cats, but less fun to watch. But the fact is, this is a problem with a solution once everyone agrees to move toward that common goal.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...