While the telecom space is familiar with STIR/SHAKEN, the TRACED Act and the DART Act, new robocall legislation has been passed to help alleviate this threat. Recently, three key pieces of robocall legislation received bipartisan support in the House.

However, of these new legislative pieces, two are being “held at the desk” in the House already having been approved in the Senate. These acts are the READI Act of 2020 and the USA Telecommunications Act of 2020. The other, the Spectrum IT Modernization Act of 2020, is currently in the Senate awaiting further approval. These acts will aim to increase funding and security for critical communication infrastructures across the nation.

Let’s examine each more closely.

Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act of 2020

The READI Act came about due to the failings of the false missile emergency alert in Hawaii. After the incident, revisiting and updating the emergency alert system (EAS) became paramount and received bipartisan support. While the bill contains a variety of changes, one of the more interesting ones for the telecom industry relates to opt outs. Under the new law, consumers would be unable to opt-out of emergency alert features on mobile phones. But this also means the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must ensure correct and timely alerts. The false missile alert sent to residents of Hawaii in 2018 was the catalyst for this proposed legislation.

Key pieces of the READI Act include:

  • Emergency alerts from FEMA cannot be blocked. Alerts coming from the President are currently the only ones that mobile device owners are unable to opt out of.
  • FCC must adopt new regulations encouraging each state to establish its own State Emergency Communications Committee, or SECC.
  • Every SECC must meet at least once per year to review its current Emergency Alert System Plan, or EAS, and update if/when necessary.
  • FCC must approve of or disapprove each state’s updated plans.

Additionally, the FCC is responsible for establishing systems in which FEMA, state and local governments, and tribal authorities may report false alerts and have the ability to examine causes. The FCC also must modify the current EAS plan and system to allow for message repeating if an alert is pending, and perform a feasibility study regarding sending emergency alerts over the internet and via audio or video streaming services.

Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act of 2020

The USA Telecommunications Act aims to create more competition in the 5G space. Currently, Huawei is the leader in 5G technology – this act aims to help provide “Western-based alternatives”, as Huawei’s efforts are heavily subsidized by the Chinese government. If passed, it will establish a program in which the Department of Commerce can offer grants to companies working on deploying and using these Open RAN networks throughout the country. These grants will:

  • Enrich the spirit of competition amongst the tech’s supply chain
  • Speed up deployment and adoption of 5G tech
  • Fund and incorporate security infrastructure enhancing this equipment’s integrity and availability

The Department of Commerce will establish the grant award criteria and create a committee that:

  • Explains tech developments to the granting program
  • Supports government efforts toward 5G supply chains
  • Provides documentation, such as reports, regarding grant spending and supply chains

While funding is a major part of this bill, setting aside funding for security infrastructures is particularly significant. This is likely to tie into call authentication infrastructures along with other security features.

Spectrum IT Modernization Act of 2020

The Spectrum IT Modernization Act aims to coordinate funding and expand and modernize the federal spectrum. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is heading the process to identify milestones while working with a number of other federal agencies, such as the FCC and the Department of Defense (DoD). A summary of this bill is currently in progress. The Spectrum IT Modernization Act was last in front of the Senate on November 18 and is currently under review by a subcommittee.

Increasing spending to modernize IT systems will ultimately help telecom agencies provide enhanced security. As such, this will likely allow better tools and databases to combat robocalls targeting consumers.

Final Thoughts

The robocall threat is unlikely to go away through legislation and call authentication alone. However, these steps help create a safer and more competitive environment. Allowing greater competition typically results in better innovation. Although it’s also imperative that these laws and innovations, and the companies behind them, collaborate effectively to put a greater damper on the threat of robocalls.