Telestax Blog

Robocall Bill Prompts Need for Value Over Volume

Recent FCC robocall bill brings communications service providers the opportunity to define a value-based call ranking approach.

With advancements in technology there are more and more ways to communicate. Some folks prefer a quick text, while others enjoy a nice long email. There is one type, however, that leaves nearly everyone seeking the disconnect button.

“Americans are fed up with robocalls,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr as part of his May 23 public statement on the recent passage of the TRACED act which allows communications service providers to block unwanted calls to private user cell phones. “They are tired of scam artists and fraudsters placing illegal calls to their phones at all hours of the day and night.”

On the same day, the U.S. Senate passed S.151, the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The bill, introduced by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), would give the federal government the authority to slap offenders with fines of up to $10,000 per call. The new robocall bill would also give regulators more time to find scammers, increase penalties for those who are caught, promote call authentication and blocking, and help coordinate enforcement to increase criminal prosecution of illegal robocallers.

While I agree with fewer robocolls, I disagree with the power this legislation is giving the telecom super powers to define what is reasonable. We need a value-based call ranking approach.

A Different Kind of Call Quality

Don’t get me wrong, as much as I agree with the FCC’s proactive approach to protect consumers, I also see other parts of the complex public telecom equation which are less apparent. For example, not all telecom service providers are equal. In its current form, the TRACED Act gives super powers to large incumbent telecoms (yes, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint) to block any call traffic that they consider reasonably suspicious. However what’s reasonable is left largely undefined, which makes things quite dangerous for the competitive health of the public communications sector.

INCOMPAS, an industry organization which actively promotes competitive rules in the US telecom market, issued a statement on May 30, detailing the risks of enacting a law that doesn’t establish clear, objective, and transparent rules. INCOMPAS also hosted an educational webinar inviting all affected businesses to join the organization and voice their concern to the FCC jointly.

Recording of the webinar is available online: “OTT and the Cloud: How New Regulations and Laws Could Stifle Innovation and Growth.”

US consumers and businesses currently benefit from one of the most competitive and effective telecom markets anywhere in the world. Telecom service fees are an order of magnitude lower than most other countries (unlike healthcare fees). One thousand programmatic calls cost about $1. It takes only a few minutes to set up an account with one or more CPaaS vendors and start blasting tens to hundreds of thousands of calls per day to unsuspecting consumers.

The good news is that the FCC is actively listening and I am hopeful that it will ultimately arrive at a balanced policy that is in the best interest of consumers. At Telestax we are working with our service provider partners to devise innovative solutions and share with the FCC via INCOMPAS, MessageComm and other channels.

One such solution we are exploring is Dynamic A2P Pricing. It would allow consumers to continue to benefit from affordable person to person communication rates while auctioning out a little bit of their off-peak air time for A2P calls and messages. It builds on the established practice of auctioning air time on TV, radio, and web content for commercials.

Here is more on this topic.

Also under consideration are a set of ideas that would enable consumers to implicitly rate services based on perceived value (ref 1, 2, 3).

One example could be a healthcare patient reaching out to a virtual agent servicing a public switched telephone network (PSTN) number to order a prescription refill. This action could credit that PSTN number with positive points and give it a higher priority routing score when used for A2P use cases in the near future (e.g. automatic reminder for a prescription refill the following month).

The assumption that a phone number is more valuable and trustworthy when there are more inbound calls coming to it than outbound calls made from it is starting to be gradually systematized in algorithmic representations. Before long we may see intelligent PSTN call ranking that resemble the brilliant PageRank.

Similarly, the FCC can establish transparency rules for a Federated Learning framework between licensed carriers that complement STIR/SHAKEN authentication. This way, the PSTN can regain its super value to consumers, compared to any single private communication network.

The following diagram illustrates the idea of ranking phone numbers based on traffic patterns.

So, where is the growth opportunity for service providers in all this? The answer is in finding ways to move from volume-based to value-based services. Easier said than done, but it’s happening.

The following diagram illustrates some of the popular layered services above basic connectivity.

Going forward, communications service providers that are dedicated to moving from volume-based to valuebased services will be on the forefront of maximizing usability and will be the ones to remain connected.

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