FCC Proposes Shorter STIR/SHAKEN Deadline for Small Voice Providers Suspected of Originating Robocalls

By: Andrew Regitsky

The FCC just released a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in Docket 17-97 in which it seeks industry comments on a proposal to move the mandatory due date from June 30, 2023, to June 30, 2022, for which voice providers with 100,000 subscriber lines or less, suspected of originating illegal robocalls, must implement caller ID authentication using the STIR/SHAKEN framework.  The proposal comes after new evidence indicates that illegal robocalls volumes are increasing from a subset of small voice service providers.  Industry comments on the proposal are due after the Third FNPRM appears in the Federal Register.

As FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks notes, the illegal robocall problem is not going away:

After a brief slowdown early last year that many attribute to the impact of the COVID pandemic on mass calling operations, multiple reports indicate that robocalls are sharply on the rise again—one source measured a record number 6.3 billion “spam calls” in March 2021, surpassing the previous month’s total of 5.6 billion and the prior monthly high from October 2020 of 6.1 billion.  (Docket 17-97, Third FNPRM, released May 21, 2021, Statement of Commissioner Starks).

Congress and the FCC found that the best way to stop illegal robocalls is through STIR/SHAKEN call authentication technology.  According to the Commission, “[b]ecause STIR/SHAKEN utilizes a three-level attestation to signify what a voice service provider knows about the calling party, it provides vital information that can be used by terminating voice service providers to block or label illegal robocalls before those calls reach their subscribers.”

Large voice providers must implement STIR/SHAKEN by the end of this June.  However, implementing the technology posed special hardships on smaller providers and warranted a two-year extension:

[The Commission] determined that an extension for small voice service providers until June 30, 2023, was appropriate because of their high implementation costs compared to their revenues, the limited STIR/SHAKEN vendor offerings available to them, the likelihood that costs will decline over time, and because an extension will allow small voice service providers to spread the costs over time.  Id., at para 5).

Initially, the Commission gave all small providers the same two-year delay, however, there is evidence that some of them are initiating robocalls.  For example, a report released by Transaction Network Services a provider of call analytics, found that 95 percent of high-risk calls originate from non-Tier-1 telephone companies, an increase of 3 percent from last year.  This is occurring even though the top 6 voice providers initiate about 75 percent of all calls.

The Commission therefore proposes to cut the two-year extension to one year for the smaller carriers involved with robocalls.  The problem is identifying the high-risk carriers.  The Commission seeks comments on the following criteria to identify the small providers that may be causing the problem:

The Provider Originates a Significant Number of Calls Per Day on any Single Line on Average – The Commission seek comment on whether it should exclude from the full extension a small voice service provider that originates an unusually high number of calls per day on a single line.  For example, USTelecom proposes that it exclude from the full extension a small voice service provider that originates more than 500 calls per day for any single line in the normal course of business.

The Provider Receives More than Half its Revenues from Customers Purchasing Non-Mass-Market Services – The Commission seek comments on whether it should shorten the extension for small voice service providers that receive more than half their revenue from customers purchasing services that are not mass-market services, as suggested by USTelecom.

The agency proposes that any criteria it adopts would be compared to small voice service provider operations prior to the effective date of its Order in this proceeding.  For example, if it adopts a criterion based on the number of calls per line, the relevant time period to determine if the call threshold is met would be the number of calls per line during a period (for example 120 days) prior to the effective date of the Order.

It’s clear that the FCC is extremely serious about eliminating robocalls.  All honest voice providers should applaud its actions here, and consumers sick of robocalls should second it.