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December 19, 2019

Illegal Robocalls’ Days are Numbered: Congress Passes the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act

It’s no secret that we are in the midst of one of the most partisan times in United States’ political history. There are few things that Congressional Democrats and Republican agree on. So it says something that a generally divided Congress came together to fight the robocall scourge that we are all currently enduring. It goes to show there’s one thing we all can agree on: Everybody hates unwanted robocalls. I say “unwanted” because in reality, there are a lot of instances when a robocall is actually helpful. When a school calls a parent to say that classes are cancelled, or when a drugstore calls to say that a prescription is ready, or when an airline calls to say a flight has been delayed, to name a few. But for every “good” robocall example, there are many, many examples of “bad” robocalls.

And while we all agree that something should be done to mitigate the bad robocalls, actually what should be done is another issue and certainly one for debate. After all, bad robocalls present an incredibly complex problem, as we outlined in a blog earlier this year.

Telephony Process Today

 

There is no silver bullet for stopping bad robocalls and unwanted communications. There is no one particular thing that can be done from any single entity. It takes a combined approach from the broader communications industry as a whole, including voice providers, industry consortiums, public policy makers and law enforcement agencies. And, it takes an approach involving technological innovation, the development of protocols, and the implementation of standards and best practices. Even then, we may never completely eliminate bad robocalls, but thankfully we can mitigate them and certainly make them less intrusive and numerous.

A good start has been the coordination of communications industry stakeholders to develop and implement the SHAKEN/STIR protocol, as we reviewed in this blog. The value of SHAKEN/STIR cannot be overstated. It goes right to the heart of robocalls. If you can defeat harmful spoofing, which is the intent of SHAKEN/STIR, you remove or at least greatly deter its use. The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), of which Twilio is on the board, has been working hard with voice providers to implement the protocol throughout 2019 and 2020. In addition, Twilio collaborates with carriers directly and through USTelecom’s traceback efforts where many sectors from the communications industry actively trace and identify the source of illegal robocalls, helping to prevent illegal robocalls from the start.

Another major step forward was taken today by Congress with the passage of Senate Bill 151, known as the the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act. 

Among other things, the bill:

  • Specifically mandates that carriers use the STIR/SHAKEN protocol for call authentication for internet protocol (IP) networks and some similar call authentication framework for non-IP networks within 18 months after enactment if service providers haven’t voluntarily implemented call authentication within 12 months of enactment.
  • Require telephone carriers to verify calls and allow robocalls to be blocked in a consistent and transparent way, all at no extra charge to consumers. 
  • Gives the FCC and law enforcement the ability to quickly go after scammers. 

The full text of the bill can be found here.

Twilio worked closely with public policy makers and our colleagues in the communications industry on the content of the legislation as it worked its way through both houses of Congress. As the bill was being negotiated, our main objective was to make sure that the good calls that consumers want to receive aren’t inadvertently blocked while attempting to eliminate unwanted and illegal robocalls. These were common goals shared by the industry as a whole and we were gratified to see that the authors of the legislation agreed with us on these points.

The bill still needs to be signed by President Trump in order for it to become law. We encourage the president to sign it as soon as possible for consumers to begin receiving much needed relief from illegal robocalls.

When it becomes law, we then look forward to working with the Federal Communications Commission and other government and industry stakeholders as they begin to implement and enforce the legislation.

Passing any federal legislation is a major achievement, and especially so in this partisan environment. For Congress to pass a bill addressing such a complex issue with so many moving parts and vested interests is truly an admirable accomplishment. 

The clock has now officially started ticking on malicious robocalls. Their days are numbered.

 

Rebecca Murphy Thompson is head of Communications Policy, Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for Twilio. @RMTMobile