Robocalls are rampant despite the Do Not Call list — FCC urges phone providers to help stop them

Key Points
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is warning phone providers to implement technology to stop telemarketing scammers or face new government rules.
  • Hiya, a startup aiming to reduce unwanted calls, estimates that 26.3 billion robocalls were placed last year, with Americans getting about 10 per month.
  • "Because of the internet, we can get all of these calls from abroad" and they appear to be from a local source, says Pai.
FCC Chair Ajit Pai on digital privacy, Net Neutrality, the future of 5G

The Federal Communications Commission, as part of a crackdown on the billions of unsolicited robocalls every year, is warning phone providers to implement technology to stop the scammers or face new government rules, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday

"Recently I told the industry, 'Look, we need to adopt call authentication, essentially a digital fingerprint, for every single phone call this year. We need to have it now or otherwise it's going to be regulatory intervention,'" Pai told CNBC's Jon Fortt, in a "Squawk Box" interview from the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

Hiya, a startup aiming to reduce telemarketing calls, estimates that Americans got 26.3 billion robocalls last year, a 46 percent increase from 2017. The average U.S. consumer received 10 spam calls per month last year, Hiya's Robocall Radar report shows.

The National Do Not Call Registry is still operational, and the Federal Trade Commission suggests that Americans looking to reduce the number of unwanted calls sign up. The FTC said consumers who still get scam calls can file a complaint.

Pai, whose agency works with the FTC to prevent robocalls, said telemarketing calls are the No. 1 complaint at the FCC and the top consumer protection priority. "We really beefed up our enforcement efforts. The largest fines in the FCC's 85-year history have been imposed on robocallers who have been bombarding American consumers with these scam calls."

The FCC said the enforcement of its Truth in Caller ID Act, which prohibits the transmission of misleading or inaccurate caller ID information with the intent to defraud, resulted in over $200 million in fines issued in 2018 alone. On Feb. 14, the agency proposed new rules banning illegal spoofed text messages and international calls.

"Because of the internet we can get all of these calls from abroad [and] they seem to be coming from a local source," Pai said. "We empowered some of the carriers to block calls that obviously spoofed; so the same area code, the next three digits are same. We want to empower them to take action."