Phone providers will be required to implement call verification technology by the end of June 2021 under rules approved today by the Federal Communications Commission. The technology, known as STIR/SHAKEN, allows phone providers to verify that a call is coming from a real number, letting people know they should pick up the phone rather than ignore a spoofed robocall.
The FCC has been slow to mandate any kind of anti-robocalling technology. Today’s approval only comes after Congress voted last year to require STIR/SHAKEN to be implemented and for the FCC to oversee it. Before then, FCC chairman Ajit Pai had attempted to encourage phone service providers to voluntarily implement the protocols. Many had begun to do so, but implementation had been slow, despite the frustrating uptick in robocalls in recent years.
Even at the end of June 2021, the system won’t be foolproof. Phone providers only have to apply the technology to the IP-based portions of their networks (so phone systems that still rely on older tech are exempted), and the FCC is working to extend the deadline for smaller phone companies by a year.
Once the technology is in place, phone providers still have to integrate their authentication systems with each other. The TRACED Act, passed by Congress, requires phone providers to work toward that integration, but there aren’t really deadlines on how quickly it has to happen.
Major service providers, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast, have already started to roll the technology out, but support has been limited. Authentication is only available on certain phones, and the systems aren’t all integrated to work together yet. That leads to some big gaps in the system: while you can be sure an authenticated call is real, there’s no guarantee that an un-authenticated call is a robocall — it could just be someone calling from an unsupported network. The system won’t really work as robocall detection technology until nearly ever provider is on board.
Still, the June 2021 deadline means that things are finally moving. STIR/SHAKEN very likely won’t have fixed the robocall problem by then, but it should hopefully be in a position to soon put in a dent in it.