As a bipartisan bill to combat robocalls head to President Donald Trump’s desk, the Federal Communications Commission and the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission continue to pursue broader deployment of a standards-based call authentication framework designed to help better identify — and hopefully, reduce — unwanted and scam robocalls.
This week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Ian Scott, chairperson and CEO of the CRTC, made the first cross-border call supported with the STIR/SHAKEN framework (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited/Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using toKENs), which aims tolet mobile phone users know that a received call has been verified as actually coming from the number it purports to be from — as opposed to being spoofed, a common tactic for scammers and unwanted robocallers.
The two regulator leaders called STIR/SHAKEN “essentially digital fingerprint for telephone calls.
“When a call between participating providers is transmitted without that digital fingerprint, the receiving phone company will know that the caller ID information is spoofed and can act to protect its customer from scams,” they said in a joint statement.
Telus supported the cross-border call on the Canadian side, with Comcast’s Xfinity voice being used on the U.S. side.
The scale of the robocall problem is immense. In a speech in November at a robocall symposium, Pai cited numbers that there were 5.7 billion robocalls in October alone: 2,115 robocalls every second, and 47% of them were scams. He said there were more than 100 million unwanted calls in each category of a broad variety of scams: student loan scams, health-related scams, Social Security scams, warranty scams and interest rate scam — along with 671 million telemarking robocalls.
“When it comes to the implementation of SHAKEN/STIR, I have made clear my expectation that major carriers will get this done by the end of the year,” Pai said at the time, adding that while he has “generally been pleased by the progress reports on SHAKEN/STIR implementation … the reality is we are only … weeks away from the end-of-the-year deadline, and we are not yet seeing sufficient implementation by all major voice providers.” He warned that the FCC has already been working on rules requiring a mandate for STIR/SHAKEN if the end-of-year deadline wasn’t met.
Now, the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, which passed the House last week, requires carriers to offer call authentication, as well as opt-in or opt-out robocall blocking, at no additional charge to consumers.
According to Mike Keegan, CEO of Transaction Network Services, said that all of the Tier 1 carriers have made “significant moves” toward STIR/SHAKEN deployment. However, the SIP-based technology can only be used in IP-based networks, so legacy networks have to rely on “reasonable analytics” as a basis for dealing with robocalls. The Tier 1 operators who have implemented STIR/SHAKEN have seen a drop in nuisance and high-scam-risk robocalls from around 70% of voice call volume to around 12%, he said, so fewer robocallers are able to use Tier 1 carrier networks as an originating point to get to subscribers. That doesn’t mean bad actors are cut off entirely, however. Keegan said they often move on to 800 numbers (which are not covered by the STIR/SHAKEN framework) or to origination on smaller carriers’ networks, who don’t currently have significant programs in place to prevent nuisance calls.
Assuming that the president signs the robocall bill requiring call authentication, Keegan expects that in 2020, there will be more movement by smaller and regional wireless providers to put call authentication in place, as well as landline providers, in order to meet the new rules. He also expects to see the FCC and carriers work on new reporting requirements that will help to ensure compliance, as well as defining the details of handling what happens when a wanted call gets blocked and how businesses (such as doctors offices or school districts) can have wanted robocall numbers taken off blocked lists.
“It’ll be an evolution,” he added. “But when you have STIR-SHAKEN in place, it’ll be a significant improvement over what we have today.”
Keegan also pointed out that according to a consumer survey conducted by TNS earlier this year, mobile users don’t necessarily want their carriers to automatically block all robocalls. Most of them want information about incoming calls, but they want to be able to choose how to deal with them, such as sending them to voicemail so they can screen them later.
In the wake of the Congressional passage of the bill, a number of network operators and vendors have announced either new roll-outs or new solutions that comply with requirements for STIR-SHAKEN and/or reasonable analytics. Frontier Communications said that it launched STIR/SHAKEN and enhanced caller ID for its customers.
Meanwhile, Empirix announced that its service assurance capabilities for voice over IP can now be extended to monitor the performance of STIR/SHAKEN components.
“Service providers that are deploying STIR/SHAKEN components are aware of the potential impact that this can have on call quality,” said Edoardo Rizzi, SVP of product management and marketing at Empirix. “By adding support for STIR/SHAKEN requirements to our market-leading VoIP assurance solution, we put service providers in a position to get true, end-to-end visibility into call flow, infrastructure, and network performance, ultimately enabling them to perform bilateral testing between carriers both before and after deployment, and to improve call quality.
“What’s more,” Rizzi added, “our unique ability to extract information from SIP signaling empowers network personnel to troubleshoot both standard SIP and STIR/SHAKEN-related SIP fields.”