The Federal Communications Commission has been in scorching heat in the recent months for its failure to implement policies that would protect Americans from the wrath of robocallers. The robocall problem in the United States has become one of the most talked about issues in social media and even on TV.
Some experts suggest that robocalls are estimated to take half of Americans household phone calls, and the latter gets worse over time. Experts said that this is a massive problem since people are using their phones most of the time and robocalls are taking so much of the hours’ people could have to use their devices. When a robocall is calling a line, it prevents another friend, family, or business call from getting into the same line at the same time.
Ajit Pai, the head of the government agency tasked in regulating communications, explicitly expressed his concern over robocalls and called it an actual problem, the behavior of the chief says otherwise. Pai is reportedly supportive of regulations that would loosen up the control over auto dialing that will give robocallers more leeway in continuing their operations.
The list of questionable behavior from Pai and the FCC seems to grow longer day by day. A recent report made by Wall Street Journal, through an investigation, it was revealed that while the FCC has issued $208.4 million in fines against robocallers and auto dialers since 2015, less than 1% of the said value has been collected; an indication of FCC’s poor implementation of the regulations that are in place against robocallers.
The said amount in forfeiture orders includes a $120 million penalty issued on May 2018 against a robocaller that was accused of placing 96 million robocalls in three months in order to persuade and trick people into buying vacation packages.
The report was based on the data from the FCC following a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to the report, only $6,790 of the total 200-million worth of fines was collected by the agency. On their defense, FCC said that the agency lacks the authority to enforce the forfeiture orders it issued and has passed all unpaid penalties for the Justice Department to act upon. It was also revealed that the FCC only punished small time robocallers and spoofers, which means that they are at times unable to pay the full penalties.
No comment from the Justice Department has since been made.
On the other hand, the Federal Trade Commission was proud of collecting 8% of the fines the agency has issued in the last 15 years. Of the $1.5 billion worth of penalties since 2004, the agency, tasked in regulating trade and commerce, was only able to collect $121 million.
“The dearth of financial penalties collected by the US government for violations of telemarketing and auto-dialing rules shows the limits the sister regulators [FCC and FTC] face in putting a stop to illegal robocalls,” the report wrote. “It also shows why the threat of large fines can fail to deter bad actors.” Fines can be “a deterrent on legitimate companies that have real assets in the US,” but they aren’t as effective against scammers and overseas operators, an attorney quoted by the report said.
With the apparent inaction from both the FCC and the FTC, many telecommunications giants are starting to take it into their own hands to end the robocall crisis in the country.
Major telecom giants like AT&T and Comcast are coming together in a move that would impact robocalls in the country. Both companies, through a joint press release, announced a cross-network authentication system to verify calls between separate providers. The companies will tap into an authentication technology called SHAKEN/STIR that will authenticate if the phone number on a user’s caller ID is the phone number that originated the call.
A few days following the joint announcement of AT&T and Comcast, Verizon also announced to roll out a free app that blocks unverified robocallers. While the company already offers a paid robocall blocking app for $2.99 a month, the telecom giant announced that it would roll out a free feature later this month.
It is expected that Verizon will soon release the instructions on how to download and use the free app by the end of this coming weeks.