Randall Stephenson, the CEO of the telecommunications company, was in the middle of a live interview onstage at the Economic Club of Washington D.C. on Wednesday, when he felt a tap from his smartwatch, indicating that he was receiving a call. Stephenson temporarily paused the interview, as he looked to see who was calling.
“I’m getting a robocall,” he said. “It’s literally a robocall.”
The audience laughed, but the moment spotlighted just how bad the spam phone call epidemic has become. Americans received 26.3 billion robocalls last year, up 47% from the previous year, according to Hiya, a spam monitoring service.
The timing of Stephenson’s robocall couldn’t have been more perfect. AT&T and Comcast announced on Wednesday that they had exchanged phone calls, and tested a system, that allows them to authenticate calls between networks. Robocalls often use spoofing to change the phone number on the caller ID, which makes blocking those numbers pointless. If the networks successfully roll out technology to authenticate calls, it could lead to a reduction in robocalls.
Most of the major carriers already offer free apps for blocking robocalls, but they don’t have a 100% success rate. Another way to weed out some unsolicited calls is to join the National Do Not Call Registry. You can register your landline or mobile number online or by calling 1-888-382-1222. If you receive an unwanted call after your phone number is on the registry, you can report it to the FTC. It probably won’t stop the robocalls, but it’s a start.
Robocalls are an issue of increasing frustration for consumers. Earlier this month, John Oliver declared war on them, debuting a robocall campaign of his own aimed at the FCC, in which the comedian asked FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and four other commissioners, to take action to enforce the digital abuse.
“Hi, FCC,” says the message played on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. “This is John from Customer Service… robocalls are incredibly annoying, and the person who can stop them is you. Talk to you again in ninety minutes.”