The Federal Communications Commission is considering “regulatory intervention” if major phone companies fail to adopt a new anti-robocall technology system this year, according to Ars Technica.
Ajit Pai Increases Pressure On Telecom Providers
For over a year, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been pressuring the major telecom providers to implement a new call authentication protocol, dubbed SHAKEN / STIR, which would help phone companies share information on where and who a robocall is coming from. The majority of telecom providers have committed to the tech, but on February 13, 2018, Pai issued a new warning to the stragglers.
“I applaud those companies that have committed to deploy the SHAKEN / STIR framework in 2019,” Pai wrote in his statement. “This goal should be achievable for every major wireless provider, interconnected VoIP operator, and telephone company – and I expect those lagging behind to make every effort to catch up. If it appears major carriers won’t meet the deadline to get this done this year, the FCC will have to consider regulatory intervention.” Pai didn’t provide any details on what regulatory intervention would look like, or when exactly it would come.
FCC Chairman Calls Out Laggards In Fight Against Robocalls
In November 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called out 7 telecom providers who did “not yet have concrete plans to implement a robust call authentication framework,” including CenturyLink, Charter, Frontier, Sprint, TDS Telecom, US Cellular and Vonage. The Chairman also applauded a roster of 7 other companies who had already committed to implementing the protocol – AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast, Bandwidth.com, Cox and Google.
Pai sent a letter to each of the 14 providers to ask for more information on their plans. On February 13, he publicly released their responses. In their letters, five of the seven providers that Pai criticized committed to implementing the SHAKEN / STIR framework by the end of this year.
Sprint & TDS Resist SHAKEN / STIR Rollout
The two remaining holdouts? Sprint and TDS Telecom, both of which committed to testing the framework this year, but neither would say when the technology would become available to customers.
Both companies cited significant problems that are holding back the rollout of SHAKEN / STIR.
Sprint, for example, is “in the midst of transitioning from CDMA voice to VoLTE [Voice over LTE],” but says that SHAKEN / STIR is fundamentally a VOIP technology, without support for CDMA voice application. “Improvising a temporary solution,” the company explains, “would divert time and resources from completing the transition to VoLTE that will fully support SHAKEN / STIR.”
TDS Telecom explained that its own network operates as “a hybrid of IP- and TDM-based solutions,” but noted that SHAKEN / STIR can’t readily be implemented on older TDM portions of the network, which are used mainly in rural areas of the country.
Pai Remains Committed To 2019 Implementation
Ajit Pai wasn’t particularly convinced by these explanations. “While some carriers committed to roll out these services in the coming months, others hedged, citing concerns that other carriers appear to have already addressed,” the FCC said in its February 13 announcement.
“Chairman Pai believes that wireless providers, interconnected VoIP providers, and telephone companies should make real caller ID authentication (the SHAKEN / STIR framework) a priority and believes that major carriers can meet his 2019 goal.”
What Is SHAKEN / STIR?
Taken as a package, SHAKEN and STIR work to prevent the spoofing of Caller ID information by allowing telecom providers to authenticate calls from their origin, and share these certificates amongst themselves. Many telephone carriers already offer newer robocall-blocking services (some for a price), but SHAKEN and STIR are expected to make things better.
“STIR and SHAKEN use digital certificates, based on common public key cryptography techniques, to ensure the calling number of a telephone call is secure,” according to telecom software company TransNexus. “In simple terms, each telephone service provider obtains their digital certificate from a certificate authority who is trusted by other telephone service providers. The certificate technology enables the called party to verify that the calling number is accurate and has not been spoofed.”
SHAKEN / STIR is expected to work at its optimal competency when all major phone providers have adopted the framework.