News Story

FCC Chairman: Agency Aims To ‘Stamp Out’ Spam Calls

Head of federal commission says it’s the No. 1 citizen complaint and it ‘drives me crazy’

Americans frustrated with the growing number of spam phone calls may take some comfort in knowing that the head of the Federal Communications Commission feels their pain, and says he’s on the case.

“This issue drives me crazy,” said Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, during an interview with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Lansing last week. “And I’m not the only one. For years, robocalls, unwanted robocalls, have been the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the FCC.”

American consumers and businesses were hit with an estimated 30.5 billion robocalls in 2017, which was a record, according to YouMail Inc.

Pai said the FCC is doing all it can to “stamp out” those billions of calls, including encouraging carriers to experiment and use new call-blocking technologies. Pai said the FCC has demanded that all carriers carry all phone calls since before he was appointed as an FCC commissioner by President Barack Obama in 2012.

He said the FCC is encouraging the tech world to create “call-authentication standards,” something he said involved a lot of complex engineering.

But Pai said once perfected, it would work this way: “If you see a phone number on your phone, ultimately once the standard is in place, you will be able to answer it knowing it is a genuine number, that has been assigned to real person who is authorized to have that phone number.”

Pai said he is also working with his foreign counterparts to get them to crack down on robocall centers in their countries. Pai related one conversation he had with an official in Asia about illegal call centers.

“I said, ‘This is a really important issue, we have evidence that there are call centers in your country that exist solely for the purpose of robocalling American consumers,’” Pai said.

The FCC is taking action against those who are involved in robocalling.

In 2017, the agency proposed a $120 million fine against a Florida man who had made 96 million “spoofed” robocalls during a three-month period. Spoofing happens when an robocall appears with a similar area code and perhaps the same three first numbers as the target’s personal phone number. By spoofing, robocallers hope to fool people into thinking that their calls are local.

FCC rules specifically require that a telemarketer show its telephone number of behalf of the person making the call. The FCC also requires that businesses display a number a person can call during regular business hours to ask to no longer be called.

“This is a huge issue for us and we are going to try to stamp it out the best we can,” Pai said.