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Sick of robocalls? They’re about to get shaken and stirred

Don’t recognize the number of that incoming call? Chances are you know exactly what they want. It goes something like…

“We’ve been trying to reach you about your car’s extended warranty…”

If you’ve simply stopped answering unfamiliar calls, you’re not alone. Robocalls hit phones in the U.S. at a rate of 1,800 calls per second in March. That’s an average 159.4 million robocalls every day according to YouMail’s robocall index.

March robocall data graph from youmail
Courtesy: YouMail

But you’ll soon get some relief. Telecommunications companies such as SDN Communications and its member companies have spent months implementing solutions to eliminate spam and spoofed robocalls for customers and they’re ready to shake things up.

“Stopping robocalls is a very simple goal,” Fay Jandreau said. “Accomplishing that is a bit more detailed.”

Jandreau is the Assistant General Manager with Venture Communications Cooperative out of Highmore. They’re one of 17 independent telephone companies of South Dakota that own SDN. His team has been working with SDN’s engineers on robocall mitigation since 2019.

“We saw the regulations coming. And we got SDN involved with the intention of, let’s not rebuild the wheel. If SDN can solve this for Venture, maybe they can do so for any one of the other members,” Jandreau said.

The regulation he’s referring to is the TRACED Act, or the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, which Senator John Thune co-sponsored and Congress passed in December 2019.

It aims to stop unwanted robocalls by authenticating legitimate calls and holding bad actors accountable. To do that, service providers must put a robocall mitigation program in place, get certified as a “Good Actor” and listed in an FCC database, and stop accepting traffic from anyone not on that list by June 30, 2021.

And just as Jandreau suggested, SDN has centralized the process for its members.

They’ve chosen a system called STIR/SHAKEN, which has nothing to do with the way James Bond takes his martinis. The massive acronym stands for Secure Telephony Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information using toKENS.

In essence, the telecom company where a call originates verifies that the caller is an authentic number and passes that information along with the call. Legitimate calls are completed.

When a robocall with inauthentic or spoofed data comes through, it’s blocked, and the end user doesn’t know what they’re missing.

So, will the TRACED Act completely solve the problem of illegal robocalls?

Thune posed that question on the Senate floor the month after the TRACED Act passed and delivered an honest answer.

Courtesy: CSPAN

“No,” he said. “But it will go a long way toward making it safe to answer your phone again. And it will help ensure that those who exploit vulnerable individuals face punishment for their actions.”

“At the end of the day, that’s the only goal we have,” Jandreau said, “to reduce or eliminate the number of robocalls people are receiving.”

Due to their size, SDN’s members qualify for a two-year extension to implement STIR/SHAKEN. But the goal is to have as many member companies as possible configured and 100% compliant with the Act by the June 30, 2021 deadline.


Robocalls that don’t require your permission:

  • Messages that are purely informational. Robocalls about your flight being canceled, reminding you about an appointment, or letting you know about a delayed school opening fall into this category, as long as the caller doesn’t also try to sell you something.
  • Debt collection calls. A business contacting you to collect a debt can use robocalls to reach you. But robocalls that try to sell you services to reduce your debt are illegal and are almost certainly scams.
  • Political calls.
  • Calls from some health care providers. This includes a robocall from a pharmacy reminding you to refill a prescription.
  • Messages from charities. Charities can make these calls themselves. But if a charity hires someone to make robocalls on its behalf, the robocalls can only go to members of the charity or prior donors. They also must include an automated option to let you stop future calls.