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Stopping Illegal Robocalls Where They Start

Myth-Busting Call Blocking

MYTH: FCC call completion regulations make it difficult for providers to block illegal and unwanted calls.

FACT: Providers have no legal obligation to do business with any particular customer; providers can and must refuse traffic from any source they believe is sending illegal calls.

  1. Robocall Sources:
    1. Illegal robocalls come in many shapes and sizes.
    2. The most blatant, fraudulent calls impersonate government officials or other well-known brands; they try to steal identity or extort money.
    3. Other illegal robocallers use the technology to market a product or service of dubious value.
    4. Many of the fraudsters are outside the United States, making them hard to find and punish.
    5. But any call to a USA telephone numbers must enter the US phone network via some US provider.
  2. Originating Providers:
    1. The Voice Service Provider (VSP, Telephone Company) that puts a call onto the US network is the Originating Provider (sometimes called the Gateway Provider if the call comes from another provider outside the US).
    2. We know that a small number of VSPs are disproportionately responsible for a large fraction of the illegal robocalling scourge.
    3. Some of these providers explicitly solicit problematic traffic; others turn a blind eye towards it.
    4. Providers get paid for every completed call; the profit motive is what drives them to facilitate this traffic.
    5. Providers are learning that with the privilege of putting calls on the network also comes a responsibility to ensure that traffic is clean.
  3. Intermediate Providers:
    1. Most Originating Providers are not directly connected to each called party’s Terminating Provider.
    2. So the Originating Provider must pay to send their calls onward to one or more Intermediate Providers.
    3. Like Originating Providers, Intermediate Providers must vet their customers and monitor their traffic.
  4. What to See and What to Do:
    1. Every provider must, on an ongoing basis, monitor the traffic they receive from each of their customers.
    2. If, for a given customer, the provider is expecting Conversational Traffic:
      1. The average call duration must be more than 3 minutes.
      2. At least 20% of the calls must last longer than 2 minutes.
    3. If, for a given customer, the provider is expecting Dialer (high-velocity, short-duration) Traffic:
      1. The ratio of calls to unique caller-ID values must be greater than 100.
      2. The caller-ID values must be verified as belonging to the customer or authorized by the owner for the customer’s use.
    4. If a customer fails to meet the above criteria, that customer must be swiftly terminated barring a compelling explanation.
  5. Making the Tough Call:
    1. Providers make their money by completing telephone calls — also known as selling minutes.
    2. Bringing on a new customer means more calls and more minutes and a commission for the salesperson.
    3. Turning away a new prospect, or turning off an existing customer, means less profit and fewer vacations and new cars.
    4. Providers that do not have the resources to vet their customers and monitor their traffic cannot be in this business.
    5. Providers have to weigh that profit motive against the potential of enforcement action.
  6. Summary
    1. Putting telephone calls onto the US telephone network is a privilege that comes with commensurate responsibilities.
    2. Providers must not do business with problematic customers and prospects.
    3. Providers must monitor the traffic they accept and promptly terminate non-compliant customers.
    4. Regulations favor, rather than discourage, this behavior by obligating providers to proactively mitigate against illegal robocalls.

The best place to stop illegal robocalls is where they enter the network. The originating and intermediate providers closest to these calls have always had the flexibility to refuse them. What’s new is that now they have the obligation to do so.

Providers accept calls because they want the payments associated with that traffic. With the prevailing regulatory regime, they have to decide if it’s worth it.

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