On the Way to Fixing Spam Calls, Caller ID Was Broken

By Special Guest
Ray Pasquale, CEO and Founder, Unified Office
April 20, 2023

A guiding principle of FCC (News - Alert) regulation has been, “The call MUST go through.” If the call doesn’t go through, there has been a failure that doesn’t serve the public interest. If the intended recipient of a call doesn’t answer because he or she doesn’t know who is calling, the call hasn’t gone through. This is a big problem for the public.

Humans recognize names of businesses, government agencies and other individuals and will generally answer calls that include the caller’s name, particularly if they recognize it. But, they won’t trust the call and often won’t answer if there is no name – and, therefore, those calls don’t go through.

Until recently, the name of the caller was usually sent with the call, so the intended recipient could make an informed decision. Suddenly, though, the name isn’t going through and, as a result, the call doesn’t go through either. Calling party name served to help people build more confidence with calling parties. If a Police Department were to call, it wouldn’t appear as a bunch of numbers that the called party might not recognize and therefore would likely not answer the call. This, of course, can be extended not just to emergency services, but to businesses of all types.

Trust and confidence in the public communications network is critical. By not allowing the calling name to accompany the phone call all the way to the end, confidence and trust will erode. Then along came robocallers and spammers, which further exacerbated the problem of public trust and faith in the PSTN and caused even more calls to not be answered. The FCC, with its STIR/SHAKEN order of 2020/2023, has attempted to reduce the number of spam and robocalls. It did so by focusing solely on the phone number of the originating caller and required that all originating calls be attested to, signaling that they are not from spammers or robocallers.

STIR/SHAKEN mandates that all calls be signed with a digital certificate that is mean to accompany the call all the way through to the terminating carrier – with transit carriers along the way checking the certificate to ensure the call wasn’t interfered with along its path. If it was determined that the originating phone number was tampered with, a downstream or transit carrier could simply drop the call.

On our way to fixing spam calls, the caller name is now replaced with spam markings like “Spam Risk” or something like CITY, STATE, again, increasing the chances of calls being unanswered. This re-labeling confusion now has resulted in the very thing that the FCC has sought to repair – declining faith and trust in the public phone network (PSTN) and the consequence of calls going unanswered. This doesn’t even consider the damage being done to businesses that have no control over how they’re being presented to the people they are calling.

What's happened instead is that terminating carriers are now asking subscribers to pay a monthly fee to receive caller names on their phones. We now move the issue of trust in branding to the terminating carriers and their subscribers who have little idea as to the millions of businesses around the world that are attempting to reach them.

So here we are. The FCC has addressed spam and robocallers, which is fantastic. But, they have not adequately addressed the caller name and we are now left with perhaps an even larger problem in the untold harm being caused to subscribers, businesses, public safety and other communications carriers, along with a continued lack of trust in public communications network.

The call that MUST go through is now not going through.

Edited by Erik Linask
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