It’s Beyond Stupid That Robocallers And Lobbyists Have Made Our Voice Networks Almost Unusable


from the fifty-forth-time’s-the-charm dept

It can’t be said often enough: it’s stunning that we’ve let scammers and scumbags hijack the nation’s top voice communications platform. And that we’ve let marketing and telecom industry lobbyists slowly degrade the authority of the one U.S. regulator capable of actually doing something about it.

Every six months or so the FCC comes out with a new plan it insists will finally fix the scourge that is robocalls. Yet the solutions are never quite enough to actually combat robocallers, who now annoy Americans roughly 5.1 billion times every month. We’ve noted repeatedly why robocalls are a problem that somehow never gets truly fixed:

  • Lobbying by a coalition of industries has routinely led to Supreme Court rulings that have curtailed the FCC’s authority to pursue “scammers” and legitimate companies alike.
  • Lobbying has resulted in a paradigm where the discourse fixates on “scammers,” when it’s “legitimate” industries that are routinely the biggest culprits, often using the same exact tactics as scammers to do things like harass heavily-indebted people they know can’t pay.
  • The FCC has long lacked the backbone to stand up to telecom giants that for 20 years turned a blind eye on robocalling because they profited from it (and in many cases still do).
  • The current system allows the FCC to fine robocallers, but doesn’t give the FCC the authority to actually collect those fines. That falls to the DOJ, which often doesn’t bother. The FCC has repeatedly asked for the authority to collect fines itself, but a corrupt Congress ignores the request, thanks to a prevailing “wisdom,” seeded by industry, that competent regulatory oversight is somehow bad.

Still, the FCC really loves putting on a show to suggest that a fix for the problem is just around the next corner. Like last week, when the FCC finally (after years of pressure) closed a loophole pertaining to voice over IP (VOIP) providers that gave robocallers easy access to U.S. phone numbers. Which scammers then use to spoof their numbers and hide their identities:

“…under rules adopted by the FCC yesterday, VoIP providers will face some extra hurdles. They will have to “make robocall-related certifications to help ensure compliance with the Commission’s rules targeting illegal robocalls,” and “disclose and keep current information about their ownership, including foreign ownership, to mitigate the risk of providing bad actors abroad with access to US numbering resources,” the FCC said.”

To be clear: this is good; it’s just not enough.

Every time you see the FCC do something about robocalls, you can be fairly certain that it’s (1) something people had been pressing them to do for the better part of a decade, (2) probably contains ample loopholes as not to offend the “legitimate” companies that utilize the exact same tactics as scammers, and (3) probably won’t actually stop more agile robocallers from annoying the shit out of you at dinner.

Groups like the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) have repeatedly issued reports detailing that we can’t fix robocalls until the FCC and Congress find the backbone (you might be waiting a while) to stand up to both scammers and legitimate corporations alike:

“Even when these providers are told—sometimes repeatedly—that they
are transmitting fraudulent calls, they keep doing it, because they are
making money from these calls. And even when they are caught and told
to stop, they are not criminally prosecuted, and the fines that are levied
are rarely collected.”

The robocall problem is usually framed in the press as a story about robocall scammers deftly outmaneuvering bumbling regulators. But that’s only part of the story. The reality is legitimate companies have actively constrained the FCC’s authority to do its job, blocked real reformers from being seated at the agency, and actively purchased the hollow performance that is modern regulatory oversight.

As a result, you often can’t use the fucking phone. Another byproduct of corruption and unchecked lobbying power we’ve somehow normalized over decades of dysfunction.

Filed Under: fcc, phone, regulatory oversight, robocalls, scammers, scams, spam, telecom, voip

Las Vegas News Magazine

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