AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson had a somewhat embarrassing moment on stage at The Economic Club of Washington D.C. yesterday when his rapport was interrupted by a robocall he received. As seen in a short clip shared by C-SPAN, the CEO dismissed the call via his smartwatch and candidly admitted “it was literally a robocall,” then the conversation moved onward after the host poked a bit of fun asking if it was President Donald Trump.
This short spam call on stage wasn’t too disruptive and can be easily written off, but it definitely highlights one of the biggest annoyances faced by telecom users in the United States today, namely the increasing number of robocalls taking place on carrier networks.
The FCC recently revealed that roughly 26.3 billion robocalls were placed in 2018 alone. The regulatory agency estimates that if the number of robocalls continues to increase at the current rate, half of all the calls received by customers in the next few years will consist only of them.
This has been an ongoing issue for many years now, and some efforts have been made in previous years to combat robocalls. Back in 2016 the so-called “Robocall Strike Force” was formed by big companies including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Alphabet, and Apple to combat the phenomenon, and while some progress has been made in this area the issue only seems to be getting worse with the passage of time.
In 2017 the FCC passed a proposal allowing U.S. telecommunication companies to be more effective at detecting and blocking calls from spoofed numbers. The use of spoof numbers for robocalls has been one of the main ways through which robocalls have been able to circumvent existing spam filters, yet once again, despite the FCC giving network operators more authority in this area, robocalls continue to represent the biggest complaint the FCC is faced with.
It now reached a point where FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is threatening U.S. network operators to come up with real solutions against the rise of robocalls, or else this will become an issue which will be dealt with through regulatory and governmental intervention. Evidently, this is something that no big corporation wants, as they would rather regulate the problems and come up with effective solutions themselves.
As far as AT&T is concerned, as highlighted by Android Authority the carrier announced a joint operation with Comcast this week, revealing that they are one step closer to offering authentication on calls based on networks. This feature should become available later this year and will allow customers to see verified calls issued via the same provider as well as other participating providers.
AT&T and Comcast have already tested the feature at the beginning of March on AT&T’s Phone digital home service and Comcast’s Xfinity Voice home phone service, and the result was reportedly a success, with calls having been authenticated and verified by the SHAKEN/STIR protocol. AT&T believes that the protocol is a key element in the ongoing effort to combat fraudulent robocalls, as it allows customers to know whether an incoming call is legitimate or has been placed by a spoof number. It doesn’t deal with the issue entirely as robocalls can still happen, but at least this solution gives telecom customers a chance to identify and reject a spam call without having to pick up the phone.