FCC pushes up STIR/SHAKEN deadline for small voice providers

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) pushed up the deadline for some small voice providers to implement STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication by a year after determining they generate a high proportion of illegal robocall traffic.

The new deadline of June 30, 2022 is a full year earlier than the previous FCC requirement for voice service providers with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines to put the technology in place in IP networks. It doesn’t apply to all small voice providers – only those that are not facilities-based. Non-facilities-based providers don’t offer voice service to customers using their own (or affiliates’) physical lines, and serve end users with connections that ride on another provider’s transmission service.

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However, if the Enforcement Bureau determines any small provider is originating illegal robocalls, they have only 90 days to implement STIR/SHAKEN. Other than those facing enforcement action, small facilities-based voice providers still get the original extension granted by the FCC, giving them until the end of June 2023.

Roughly 330 or so non-facilities-based voice providers fall under the new scope. The FCC Report and Order  said that 328 out of 1,768 filers based on FCC data “offer only VoIP voice service not bundled with transmission service,” though the number is not exact.

The FCC already required most large carriers to deploy STIR/SHAKEN technology by the end of June 2021. The framework helps to combat robocalls and the technique of spoofing by authenticating the originating caller and supports interoperability for calls traveling between networks before it reaches the end user.  Smaller providers were given more time because of costs and hardships associated with implementation, along with their small percentage of total voice subscribers.

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But since then, the FCC determined a disproportionate amount of illegal robocall traffic is coming from small non-facilities-based providers. Among evidence submitted to the record, the order cites a September TNS survey that found only 4% of high-risk calls in the first half of 2021 originated from the top six carriers, down from 11% in 2019 and 6% in 2020.

“It concludes that the small provider extension ‘has likely resulted in the increase of unwanted VoIP calls’ and, in the comments, argues that ‘problematic robocalls increasingly are shifting to small carrier networks . . . [a]s large carriers continue to implement STIR/SHAKEN’,” the FCC states. “No commenter disputed these conclusions or offered competing evidence suggesting a different conclusion.”

The extension for small providers generating a high and growing amount of illegal robocalls creates a gap that the FCC said undermines STIR/SHAKEN’s effectiveness.

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The FCC also doesn’t think it will be as much of a burden for non-facilities-based carries to put STIR/SHAKEN in place. The order noted many have already started and been able to deploy the technology faster than other providers. Out of the 328 non-facilities-based providers, 32% had completed STIR/SHAKEN implementation, 46% had no implementation and the remaining partially started. Comparatively, out of the other 1,440 providers 67% did not yet have any STIR/SHAKEN while just 12% had completed it.

“Robocalls are not just a nuisance. They’re a way that scammers try to reach us with junk services we did not ask for, do not want, and do not need,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “What this agency needs to do is find every way we can stop these calls from getting through. Today’s action does just that by requiring more providers implement STIR/SHAKEN in short order.”

Combating robocalls has gotten attention from lawmakers who passed in recent years passed the TRACED Act anti-robocall law. The FCC also has made it a priority with several actions, including authorizing telcos to automatically block illegal robocalls in 2019. More recently in October as part of the agency’s new Robocall Response Team, the FCC sent cease-and-desist letters to three network providers who were originating illegal scam calls. If they didn’t comply the FCC said it would authorize other operators to block traffic from the companies altogether.