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Phone companies agree to help fight illegal robocalls

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Tired of robocalls? You’re not alone. By some estimates, you’re getting an average of 10 such calls every month, and at least a quarter of them are scams.

The Federal Communication Commission says its top consumer complaints are about unwanted calls. To curb them, top law enforcers from all 50 states have joined with a coalition of the nation’s 12 largest phone companies to fight illegal robocalls

In a statement released Thursday, Aug. 22, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that the phone companies agreed to adopt eight key practices to help protect consumers and help AGs prosecute bad actors.

“I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone who has been harassed by unwanted robocalls,” Hood said in the statement. “As a result, I have committed to serving as a leading state in the Robocall Technology Working Group for the National Association of Attorneys General, and I’ve worked with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, federal enforcers, and other AGs to do everything we can to stop unwanted robocalls. In the past, the Federal Communications Commission has made it clear that phone companies can assist us in our fight against these unwanted and intrusive robocalls. We have continued to press these phone carriers to give their customers what they have been asking for – a way to stop these calls before they ever come through.”

Under the agreement, phone companies have committed to:

  • Implementing call-blocking technology at the network level at no cost to customers.
  • Making available to customers additional, free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.
  • Implementing technology to authenticate that callers are coming from a valid source.
  • Monitoring their networks for robocall traffic.

Phone companies will assist attorneys’ general anti-robocall enforcement by:

  • Knowing who their customers are so bad actors can be identified and investigated.
  • Investigating and taking action against suspicious callers – including notifying law enforcement and state attorneys general.
  • Working with law enforcement, including state attorneys general, to trace the origins of illegal robocalls.
  • Requiring other telephone companies with whom they contract to cooperate in traceback identification.

“The principles offer a comprehensive set of best practices that recognizes that no single action or technology is sufficient to curb the scourge of illegal and unwanted robocalls. I hope that all parts of the telecommunication industry, both large and small, will commit to rapidly implementing these principles and work with state and federal authorities to make people want to answer their phone again without fear of being defrauded or annoyed,” said Levi Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Columbia University and former Chief Technology Officer at the FCC Henning Schulzrinne.

The coalition of attorneys general was led by North Carolina and includes attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The coalition of companies includes AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream.

“We pay a lot for our phones for our own use,” Hood said. “Instead, these bogus telemarketers and scam artists use our own property to harass us.  I hope one day we will be able to push a button every time they call and charge them a fee to be paid toward our phone bill.”

In addition to this effort, Hood led national support this spring for federal legislation known as the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED). This Act would assist in combating illegal robocalls by requiring industry-wide implementation of call authentication protocols. The bill is making its way through Congress. He also joined states calling on the FCC to take further action to stop the growing proliferation of illegal robocalls and spoofing. Additionally, Hood, along with the Mississippi Public Service Commission, published a guide for consumers with helpful information to block or filter unwanted calls.

 

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