Telephone service in our country is implemented via a few thousand different voice service providers, from giants like AT&T and Verizon (each serving over a hundred million subscribers) to small rural providers serving a thousand or fewer, to voice broadcasters and others that specialize in robocalls.
While still subject to some government regulations, the providers exchange telephone traffic primarily via commercial agreements. They make their own rules about the terms and conditions under which they accept calls from each other, and how they’ll be compensated.
To place his calls, a robocaller must have an arrangement with one or more of these providers, who in turn will have arrangements with other providers to pass the calls along to their final destinations. We call that first provider the Originating Provider.
The Originating Provider is under no obligation to accept the robocaller’s traffic. The provider does it for one simple reason: because the robocaller pays him.
In some cases the calls come from outside the USA. But there is always some Originating Provider in the United States that accepts the calls, in exchange for money, and sends them onward.
The robocall scourge has risen to its current level because a few unscrupulous providers have made it their business to facilitate this activity.
There are three avenues to address this.
1) Ideally, those providers that are today taking the robocallers’ traffic would cease doing so. Initially they might claim they were unaware of the problem, but numerous providers have been notified of illegal robocalls originating via their platforms so for them that excuse is gone. Most providers shun these calls but holdouts remain. Providers need to be judicious in granting access to high-volume calling capability and caller-ID spoofing mechanisms, since these are frequently used for nefarious purposes.
2) An originating provider is only able to make money on robocalls because he’s arranged to send those calls onward through other providers. It is up to those other providers to decide if and how they want to continue doing business with an originator that allows his customers to make these calls. Some have modified their contracts to prohibit such traffic and have fired customers that do not comply.
3) The FCC has the authority to punish providers that misbehave. Title II, Section 201(b) of the Communications Act of 1934 states: “All charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with such communication service, shall be just and reasonable, and any such charge, practice, classification, or regulation that is unjust or unreasonable is hereby declared to be unlawful.” The practice of continuing to accept on-going illegal robocall traffic is unreasonable. The FCC needs to take swift action against these providers.
Robocalls have reached their current level thanks to a few simple choices: A handful of originating providers choose to do business with the robocallers because they get paid; certain downstream providers choose to accept calls from the facilitating originating providers because that’s easier than pushing back; and the FCC chooses to pursue a host of other initiatives yet fails to attack the root cause directly.