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Stopping Illegal Robocalls Where They Start

Structuring an Effective Robocall Mitigation Program

The FCC noted, in its Sep. 29, 2020 Second Report and Order: Section 4(b)(5)(C)(i) of the TRACED Act directs us to require any voice service provider that has been granted an extension to implement, during the time of the extension, “an appropriate robocall mitigation program to prevent unlawful robocalls from originating on the network of the provider.” And in their Dec. 30, 2020 Fourth Report and Order, they added language to CFR § 64.1200, requiring ALL voice service providers to Take affirmative, effective measures to prevent new and renewing customers from using its network to originate illegal calls, including knowing its customers and exercising due diligence in ensuring that its services are not used to originate illegal traffic.

In that 2nd Report and Order, the FCC gives voice service providers the flexibility to decide the specific contours of an effective robocall mitigation program that best suits the needs of their networks and customers. So what does that mean? What sort of a program best suits a given provider? How can a provider be confident that the approach they select meets these new regulations?

We don’t claim to have THE answer, but we think we have a pretty good start on AN answer.

Illegal robocalls come in many shapes, sizes and flavors. But at the highest level, they most significant characteristic is that they are machine-dialed at a relatively rapid rate and have, on average short call duration. Compared to what? Conversational traffic. The telecom industry has distinguished for years between traditional, human-dialed, person-to-person calls, versus dialer traffic (also called high-velocity or call center or high calls-per-second (CPS) traffic). We’ll call it auto-dialed.

Not all auto-dialed traffic is illegal, but it very frequently is. Thus it is incumbent on any provider contemplating accepting auto-dialed traffic from a customer to apply intense scrutiny to make sure the calls are and will continue to be legitimate. Distinguishing between conversational and auto-dialed traffic, and implementing commensurate measures, will be the backbone of an effective robocall mitigation program (RMP).

Providers have a couple of choices:

  • Do not accept any auto-dialed traffic. This can be accomplished by restricting the rate at which a customer can initiate calls. In some cases, this comes naturally: customers of a mobile operator that only takes calls from authenticated handsets will have a difficult time making hundreds of calls a minute. A small business customer with three analog trunks will be similarly challenged. Providers can (and should) place explicit limits on the number of calls per second (CPS) the customer can initiate. Most telecom hardware and software have configuration parameters for CPS and for number of simultaneous calls (channels).
  • Accept auto-dialed calls, but only with careful vetting, restrictions on caller-ID, and on-going monitoring.

A provider going down the first path should routinely audit call records to ensure that no auto-dialed traffic has infiltrated what is expected to be conversational calling. This is not particularly burdensome; it primarily involves monitoring for short-duration calls and make sure they do not come to dominate.

A provider opting for the second path has implicitly decided that they will have to invest in a robust RMP. Key elements of an RMP for auto-dialed traffic must include:

  1. Thorough vetting of the customer, including details about the type(s) of calling campaign(s) they are running and how they are 100% complaint with the myriad applicable regulations.
  2. Pre-validation of the caller-ID values the customer will use, including confirmation that each number is either assigned directly to the customer, or used with the explicit permission of the assignee. (This is necessary because illegal robocalling so often includes illegal caller-ID spoofing.)
  3. Call-by-call confirmation that the caller-ID used is on the pre-validated list, and that the calling rate is in line with the type of calling the customer said they were doing.
  4. On-going monitoring and spot-checking to ensure that the calling numbers are not being reported as illegal, and that the numbers answer consistent with whatever legitimate campaign(s) the customer has represented they are making.
  5. Immediate engagement with any customer with prompt suspension if problems are not rectified, and permanent termination for a repeat offense.

Stay tuned for our next episode, where we’ll explore how this is actually accomplished.

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