U.S. Phone Industry Mobilizes To Stop Robocalls

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A new agreement unveiled in Washington has now taken the first steps to set up the entire U.S. mobile industry as a united front against robocalls. The pledge was signed between no fewer than 12 mobile providers, including all of the biggest players in the region. The idea is that it will act as a catalyst to encourage further cooperation to better halt robocalls before they reach consumers.

Not only have AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon each promised to address the issues the undesirable spam calls present. Smaller carriers including Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Consolidated, Frontier, U.S. Cellular, and Windstream are on board too.

Helping to negotiate the deal, the companies were joined by a total of 51 attorneys general. The bid was led in part by North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. Mr. Stein released a statement on the matter indicating that the "principles" underpinning the agreement is "a dramatic step forward" in preventing the harm robocalls can cause.

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There are still several prominent names notably missing from the agreement, including some of the nation's biggest MVNOs. Presumably, because the networks themselves are involved, any improvements made will trickle back to the alternative carriers. That might happen via cooperative agreement or on an individual basis for companies using the towers of the larger networks. How the other companies might be brought on board isn't immediately clear.

It takes an entire industry to fight robocalls

It's hoped that the agreement can serve a secondary purpose to not only assist in stopping the calls when they happen. Instead, the companies may be able to help in enforcing regulations and laws against the disruptive and often malicious communications.

These are not the first steps to be taken in deference to those goals, however. The FCC began pressuring network operators to bring an end to the seemingly endless wave of robocalls last year. This year the commission voted to allow that blocking to happen automatically.

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Providers began implementing measures to stop the call or provide helpful warnings to unwilling recipients of those calls almost immediately. T-Mobile was among the first carriers to start the process of blocking calls automatically. That was followed by partnerships between the carrier and others such as Comcast.

The latter of those set in motion more agreements and partnerships to broaden the impact of standards so that they apply across platforms. T-Mobile has remained near the forefront of that, signing an allegiance similar to its tie-up with Comcast with AT&T. Those partnerships are intended to serve as the groundwork for cross-carrier partnerships moving forward.

Further bills have been passed and regulatory action has been taken in the interim that will arguably have more impact. Summarily, the actions have been taken in a bid to make it easier to enforce the measures even across international borders.

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By involving the carriers, it may become easier to identify malicious callers.

Can lacking enforcement and no set goals lead to progress?

There is at least one possible caveat to the pledge signed by the carriers, in spite of the optimism surrounding the apparent partnership. Chiefly, that's because there are no real consequences for any carrier that doesn't follow through. Nothing is binding about the agreement and no enforceable deadlines have been set.

The purpose of that lack of enforceability seems to be to ensure that none of the carriers suffer as a result of rushing to implement changes. Attorney General Stein says the expectation is that the carriers will work to stop robocalls as quickly as is practical.

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In theory, the leeway granted should ensure that none of the companies moves to faster than is sustainable. Whether or not that proves to be the downfall of the cooperation between carriers or helps to encourage follow-through remains to be seen.