We’ve all got the calls: IRS and insurance-themed scams beamed to your phone via spoofed numbers from your area code. On some days, the robocalls can feel endless—a tidal wave of spam barraging my back pocket. I’ve been known to leave my phone on perma-silent for days at a time because of the onslaught (not a great habit for a journalist). But over the past couple of years, the Federal Communications Commission has started taking steps to remedy the problem. Now, the crackdown continues with the looming possibility of phone provider bans.
Seven companies—Akabis, Cloud4, Global UC, Horizon Technology Group, Morse Communications, Sharon Telephone Company, and SW Arkansas Telecommunications and Technology—have received their final warning from the FCC.
If these voice service providers don’t comply with the commission’s STIR/SHAKEN standards, then they’ll be kicked off the interconnected, nationwide network of phones. Under the threatened ban, phone calls made through these services would hit a wall before they ever reach the intended recipient.
“This is a new era. If a provider doesn’t meet its obligations under the law, it now faces expulsion from America’s phone networks,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in a press statement published Monday. “Fines alone aren’t enough. Providers that do not follow our rules and make it easy to scam consumers will now face swift consequences,” she added in the news release.
The FCC’s mitigation standards SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) are technologies that basically verify if phone calls are coming from a legitimate provider source, and provide an authenticated digital ID. In June 2021, the three largest phone providers: T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T implemented the standards. And in September of the same year, the FCC made STIR/SHAKEN mandatory for all providers.
The listed companies facing possible blocks appear to be mostly voice-over internet providers and business telecom providers. But Sharon and SW Arkansas are both small, regional telecoms providers. Each of the separately issued FCC orders documents a company’s specific deficiencies. Six of the seven orders include the line “[Insert provider name]’s certification did not include any specific reasonable steps that [it] was taking to avoid origination of illegal robocall traffic.”
Instead, it seems like multiple companies sent notices seeking confidentiality, and a couple seem to have made mistakes—attaching a description of the requirements instead of a description of their own efforts to meet those requirements.
But the FCC says it won’t be accepting willful disregard of its standards or compliance mistakes without consequences. “STIR/SHAKEN is not optional,” said Enforcement Bureau chief Loyaan Egan, in the news statement. “These providers have fallen woefully short and have now put at risk their continued participation in the US communications system. While we’ll review their responses, we will not accept superficial gestures given the gravity of what is at stake.”