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September 17, 2020

Twilio Joins FCC Chairman and Colorado AG for Robocall Panel Discussion

Recently, I was proud to have participated in USTelecom’s panel discussion about efforts in the United States to stop illegal robocalls entitled, “Hanging up on Illegal Robocalls.” For those of you who missed it, a recording of it can be found here.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai got the conversation started off, followed by remarks by Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. Chairman Pai called out examples of efforts to successfully mitigate illegal robocalls, such as actions by the FCC that led to five U.S.-based gateway providers shutting down access to their networks by bad robocall actors within 48 hours of being made aware of the suspicious traffic. Pai said the agency’s focus was not just on the bad guys, but going after their enablers, too.

Attorney General Weiser observed how the effort to stop bad robocalls was bipartisan in nature at both the federal and state level, and noted how that same approach can and should be applied to other areas of potential agreement such as privacy issues and broadband deployment. In the meantime, he characterized the cooperation between USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group and state attorneys general as a crucial element in the fight against illegal robocalls. Weiser said moving forward, in addition to continuing to pressure to go after the bad guys, emphasis should be placed on successfully implementing the SHAKEN/STIR (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs/Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) protocol, analyzing traffic, identify the source of calls, and use the data to provide consumers the information they need to avoid illegal and unwanted robocalls.

The panel discussion followed and included -- along with myself:

  • Ann Entwistle, trial attorney, Consumer Protection Branch. U.S. Department of Justice
  • Lois Greisman, associate director, Division of Marketing Practices, Federal Trade Commission
  • Chris Oatway, associate general counsel, Verizon
  • Moderator: Patrick Halley, senior vice president, Policy & Advocacy, USTelecom

The panelists quickly echoed the sentiments of Chairman Pai, talking about the need for going after the enablers of the bad robocall actors. And the panelists all agreed with both Chairman Pai and Attorney General Weiser that the public sector working collaboratively with industry stakeholders has produced successful results to date.

On the technical side, to augment what Attorney General Weiser said, the panelists also talked about how consumers are entitled to being able to opt-in and opt-out of calls in a clear and easily understood process. To that extent, “knowing your customer” was also a crucial element for empowering the end user to decide what communications they wanted -- or not -- via their electronic devices.

As to whether the illegal robocall war can be won, the sentiment of the panel was a resounding “yes.” On the whole, complaints to the FTC and the DOJ have dropped, enforcement actions and fines are up, and additional resources are being brought to bear to combat illegal robocalls. The TRACED Act has been passed, putting the power of federal law into play for dealing with the problem, and as mentioned before, an infrastructure of coordination between industry, public policy and law enforcement has grown by leaps and bounds during the course of the last year. As I said at the end of the discussion, “It’s working not just in statistics, but we’re seeing in the enterprise space a restoration of trust. There’s no silver bullet. But the combined effort of public policy, law enforcement, and industry cooperation -- and from Twilio’s perspective, innovation, too -- means the days are numbered for illegal robocallers.”

Our thanks to USTelecom for pulling together the panel discussion, and to Chairman Pai and Attorney General Weiser for taking the time to participate. On behalf of Twilio, we look forward to our continued work and cooperation with all involved to bring an end to illegal robocalls once and for all.

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