FCC slaps robocaller with record $120M fine, but it’s like ’emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’

FCC slaps robocaller with record 0M fine, but it’s like ’emptying the ocean with a teaspoon’

Whoever thought we would leave telemarketing behind in this brave new smartphone world of ours lacked imagination. Robocalls are a menace growing in volume and even a massive $120 million fine leveled against a prominent source of them by the FCC likely won’t stem the flood.

The fine was announced today during the FCC’s monthly open meeting: a Mr Adrian Abramovich was responsible for nearly 100 million robocalls over a three-month period, and will almost certainly be bankrupted by this record forfteiture.

“Our decision sends a loud and clear message,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. “This FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.”

That sounds impressive until you hear that these calls took place in 2016, and meanwhile there were 3.4 billion robocalls made last month alone. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel applauds the fine, but questions the practicality of pursuing damages when actions need to be taken to prevent the crimes in the first place.

“Let’s be honest,” she wrote in a statement, “Going after a single bad actor is emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.”

She points out that a set of rules designed to prevent robocalls was overturned a couple months ago, and that 20 petitions to the FCC under those rules for legal exemptions and such have yet to be addressed. And a technology designed to prevent robocalls altogether, recommended in a report more than a year ago and currently set to be implemented in Canada in 2019, has no such date here in the States.

As someone who gets these robocalls all the time, I fully support both this fine and the more serious measures Rosenworcel suggests. And the faster the better, I literally got one while writing this story.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FCC dings T-Mobile $40M for faking rings on calls that never connected

FCC dings T-Mobile M for faking rings on calls that never connected

T-Mobile will pay $40 million as part of a settlement with the FCC for playing ringing sounds to mislead customers into thinking their calls were going through when in fact they had never connected in the first place. The company admitted it had done so “hundreds of millions” of times over the years.

The issue at hand is that when someone is trying to call an area with poor connectivity, it can sometimes take several seconds to establish a line to the other party — especially if a carrier itself does not serve the area in question and has to hand off the call to a local provider. That’s exactly what T-Mobile was doing, and there’s nothing wrong with it — just a consequence of spotty coverage in rural areas.

But what is prohibited is implying to the caller that their call has gone through and is ringing on the other end, if that’s not the case. Which is also exactly what T-Mobile was doing, and had been doing since 2007. Its servers began sending a “local ring back tone” when a call took a certain amount of time to complete around then.

As the FCC estimates it, and T-Mobile later confirmed:

Because T-Mobile applied this practice to out-of-network calls from its customers on SIP routes that took more than a certain amount of time on a nationwide basis and without regard to time of day, the LRBT was likely injected into hundreds of millions of calls each year.

It’s not just a bad idea: it’s against the law. In 2014 the FCC’s Rural Call Completion Order took effect, prohibiting exactly this practice, which it called “false audible ringing”:

[O]ccurs when an originating or intermediate provider prematurely triggers audible ring tones to the caller before the call setup request has actually reached the terminating rural provider. That is, the calling party believes the phone is ringing at the called party’s premises when it is not. An originating or intermediate provider may do this to mask the silence that the caller would otherwise hear during excessive call setup time. As a result, the caller may often hang up, thinking nobody is available to receive the call. False audible ringing can also make it appear to the caller that the terminating rural provider is responsible for the call failure, instead of the originating or intermediate provider.

Users and carriers complained after this rule took effect, and also sought remedy with T-Mobile directly. The FCC looked into it and T-Mobile reported that it had solved the problem — but complaints continued. It became clear that the company had been violating the rule for years and in great volume and had not in fact stopped; hence the settlement and $40 million penalty.

T-Mobile will also have to take action within 90 days to stop the practice (if it hasn’t already) and issue regular reports to the FCC every year for the next three years that it is still in compliance. You can read the full consent decree here (PDF).

Update: FCC Commissioner Clyburn points out in a separate statement that despite evidence of widespread consumer harm, there’s nothing for users in the settlement.

[T]here is absolutely nothing in this consent decree to compensate consumers. Prior consent decrees have included direct-to-consumer benefits, such as refunds or discounts, or notifications to customers who have been impacted.

Despite demonstrating a clear and tangible consumer harm, in this consent decree, consumers are treated as a mere
afterthought.

The $40 million civil penalty, which will be paid to the U.S. Treasury, is dwarfed by larger, unpaid fines recently proposed against individual robocallers—and the volume of potential violations here outpaces any robocalling action the Commission has taken. And the compliance plan does not contain any concessions that would explain such a massive discount.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’

FCC wants to stop spending on gear from companies that ‘pose a national security threat’
The U.S. maneuvers against China’s tech giants continue today with an official announcement from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that the agency may soon ban purchasing anything from companies that “pose a national security threat.” Huawei, ZTE and other major tech manufacturers aren’t named specifically, but it’s clear what is meant.
Pai lists the risk of backdoored routers, switches and other telecoms equipment as the primary threat; Huawei and ZTE have been accused of doing this for years, though hard evidence has been scarce.
The proposal would prohibit any money from the FCC’s $8.5 billion Universal Service Fund, used for all kinds of projects and grants, to be spent on companies beholden to “hostile governments.” Pai mentioned the two Chinese giants in a previous letter describing the proposed plan.
Both companies in question have strenuously denied the charges; perhaps most publicly by Richard Yu, CEO of the company’s consumer business group, at CES this year.
But warnings from U.S. intelligence services have been ongoing since 2012, and Congress is considering banning Huawei equipment from use by government entities, saying the company “is effectively an arm of the Chinese government.”
Strong ties between these major companies and the Chinese government are hard to deny, of course, given China’s particularly hands-on methods in this sort of thing. Ironically, however, it seems that our spy agencies are so sure about this in great part because they themselves have pushed for and occasionally accomplished the same compromises of network infrastructure. If they’ve done it, they can be sure their Chinese rivals have.
The specifics of the rule are unknown, but even a relatively lax ban would likely be a big hit to Huawei and ZTE, which so far have failed to make a dent in the U.S. phone market but still manufacture all kinds of other telecommunications gear making up our infrastructure.
The draft of the new rule will be published tomorrow; the other commissioners have it now and are no doubt reading and forming their own opinions on how to improve it. The vote is set for April 17.

Source: Gadgets – techcrunch