Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a break from deregulating Obama-era laws that protect consumers from telecommunications service providers to do something of actual worth for the American people.
In November he sent out letters to major companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Google and Comcast prompting them to implement a system combating robocalls and phishing schemes that yielded $200 million in forfeiture in 2017, according to Pai’s statement.
The chairman spent recent years annoying consumers and pleasing businesses by deregulating the internet as a utility and allowing the sale of consumers internet browsing data to third party companies.
So it’s an odd yet welcome change of pace to see Pai attempting to regulate telecommunications service providers, telling them they have until the end of the year to implement an authentication system for calls so phone numbers must be verified before a call can be made.
One of the worst problems that consumers deal with is call spoofing, in which a local phone number is falsely generated to trick the call receiver into answering.
Pai wants companies to implement a “shaken/stir” framework that would authenticate the call as it goes out, then verify it again before the call is sent to the receiver.
Of the 14 letters sent out to various companies and their CEOs, a few have responded with slight resistance to the time frame Pai has set for these companies.
“The timeline necessarily is dependent, in significant part, on factors beyond AT&T’s control, including coordination with other voice service providers. For example, AT&T’s current target of exchanging signed calls with one service provider in the third quarter of next year is based on preliminary discussions initiated earlier this month,” John Marsh Executive Vice President of Regulatory and State External Affairs for AT&T said in a statement to the FCC.
Representatives for Google responded, saying they already have a robust system being implemented in-house that combats robocalls and are taking further steps with their Pixel 3 smartphone by adding a call screen feature in which a consumer can have a Google assistant answer a call and find out who’s calling before the receiver answers the phone.
Most companies’ responses agreed larger steps needed to be taken and were happy to comply with the request to develop and implement these systems.
This is a good example that I hope changes Pai’s mind on how much regulation is needed for these companies.
The internet and smartphones have become an extension of the human experience and an integral part of the everyday lives of billions of people. This means it needs to be an open and fair playing field that Obama-era rules tried to provide.
For the first time Pai has made me believe he’s aware that these companies can’t just blindly operate without rules or regulation, I just hope he has the ability to expand on that thought and maybe realize the damage he’s been doing since his appointment to chairman.
I won’t hold my breath though.