Robocalls Down 50% in Eight Months!: How Changes in Technology and Regulator Priorities Have Accomplished What Lawsuits Never Could

For years, it seems, every other media segment had something to do with robocalls. Indeed, I famously joined an NPR segment on Christmas Eve to discuss robocalls and the need for clarity surrounding the federal laws and regulations addressing their usage.

While the media was quick to supply headline after headline on the topic as robocall volumes soared 2015 onward–entirely unphased by a misguided (IMO) FCC campaign to expand the TCPA– there has been virtual silence on the extremely impressive reduction in robocalls effectuated by the current FCC administration.

Indeed, according to YouMail and its (in)famous Robocall Index robocalls are down over 50% from their October, 2018 high.

Over 50%!

Plus the percentage of those calls that represent scam calls is lower than we’ve seen in a decade.

So what’s behind the huge decrease in robocalls–particularly illegal scam calls–reaching the nation’s consumers? Several things.

Without question COVID 19 has slowed the roll of some of the world’s biggest robocall abusers, but robocalls were already down over 35% in early March–before the coronavirus really began shuttering businesses around the globe.

No, something real and tangible happened here–but what?

Well first, we know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t the TCPA. That statute–the largest cashcow in American history for the plaintiff’s bar--has been largely on ice since the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal set aside the FCC’s massive expansion of the statute in 2015. Indeed, robocalls quadrupled after that expansion demonstrating-without question— that the TCPA is not, and never was, an effective tool against robocalls.

But if the TCPA and its huge-dollar class actions aren’t preventing robocalls, then what gives?

A couple of things. First, the current FCC administration has wisely put the focus on preventing robocalls on technology over lawsuits— enabling carriers to implement default call blocking regimes using advanced technologies to prevent bad traffic from ever reaching your handset to begin with. And while these advances raise serious and important concerns over whether legitimate calls are being improperly blocked--we really need a redress process folks– there is no questioning the effectiveness of these tools at preventing unwanted calls.

Second, carriers themselves are getting together and identifying the source of illegal calls through so-called “gateway carriers” and are shutting down access points to the US network using traced-back efforts. Our friend Patrick Halley at the US Telecom group is the gentleman principally responsible for this effort–and he told usall about it in Unprecedented Episode 12.

Third, the FCC/FTC has been incredibly aggressive with carriers when it comes to COVID scam calls. The reglulators have adopted a zero tolerancepolicy that is really cutting down on volume of illegal traffic that would otherwise make it onto our networks.

Bottom line: between the hard work of the Industry Traceback Group and the FCC’s focus on technology over lawsuits we have seen a massive decrease in robocalls over the last 8 months–even while TCPA suits are on a steady decline.

All of this bodes well for a nation that has lived under the scourge of illegal robocalls–and abusive TCPA lawsuits–for too long now. I for one am willing to bet the trend of declining robocalls will continue long after SCOTUS–hopefully-strikes down the TCPA as an illegal restriction on free speech sometime this month.Fingers crossed.