Background: For years internet service providers have been attempting to stop spam messages from clogging email inboxes using two main tools. The first, email providers have a system whereby they can track I.P. addresses to identify users who send so many emails that it is highly unlikely that they are conducting legitimate activities. The companies also have given tools to email recipients whereby they can report messages that they believe to be spam. The similarities between emails and phone calls lead me to the conclusion that these systems would help to reduce the amount of illegal robocalls in the United States.
A recent study was done by Pew Internet on the calling and texting habits of Americans. Young adults, those between 18 and 24, sent more text messages than any other group, with an average 109.5 text messages sent or received in a day. With the assumption that users receive as many text messages as they send, the average young adult is sending approximately 55 text messages a day. This number is significantly less than the number of text messages that can be sent in a day by an illegal robocaller.
For phone calls, the study found an average of 12.3 phone calls per day, with young adults again having the highest average at 17.1 calls per day. A robocall with a 30 second message can make over 100 calls in an hour, significantly more calls than the average American makes in an entire day.
Solution: Since the phone companies already keep track of the number of calls made by phones for which they are the service provider, I propose that the FCC implement a system requiring the phone company, or VOIP provider, to disconnect service of phones that exceed a certain threshold or which Americans rarely surpass. For this proposal I will be using 30 calls per hour as an example. Once a phone number attempts to make its 31st call, instead of connecting, an automated message would be played explaining the situation and asking the customer to call their phone company to confirm that they are not making illegal robocalls. When calling the phone company, the individual would be required to provide proof of identity, and agree to be held responsible for any criminal or civil penalties for illegal robocalls.
Since some robocalls are legal, such as those from hospitals and political organizations, it is important that these calls are able to be made unobstructed. Similar to how the IRS grants permits to non-profits, the FCC can implement a system to give permits to organizations who are legally allowed to make robocalls. There permits can be shown to their phone company to exempt their phone lines from tracking.
- Does not increase burden on most consumers.
- Works in conjunction with existing robocall reporting hotlines. When Americans call government hotlines to report robocalls, it acts an enforcement mechanism for my proposal. Potential Problems:
- Does not stop international calls: I do not believe that my solution has any way to regulate service providers outside the United States. However, a rational choice analysis leads me to believe that less robocalls will still occur because international calls are more expensive than domestic calls.
- I currently do not have a solution to sophisticated VOIP robocall operations, where the robocaller has the ability to change ip addresses between calls. There may be a solution to this problem, but I have yet to be able to come up with one.
- Cost to implement: I expect the financial burden for implementing this system to be small on service providers. I cannot estimate how expensive it would be for the FCC to implement a permit process. Fines received from robocalls may be able to alleviate this financial burden.
- Illegal robocallers could set their machines to work at just under the pace where they would be caught by tracking software. A rational choice analysis leads me to believe that many potential robocall operations will not occur if the limit before verification is significantly below the number of calls that they would be able to make otherwise.