Our Ideas

The New Center’s Robocall Solutions in Brief


(Read the full Robocall paper here).

A Dime for Every Robocall

Telecom companies that refuse to police robocalls should pay a price. Congress the FTC should work together to evaluate telecom carrier’s robocall-blocking performance, and they should punish those that flounder. Fortunately, this evaluation infrastructure already exists. The FTC website’s telemarketing complaint form asks several questions to assess whether reported calls are illegal, such as the time of the call, the amount of money requested, and the caller’s company information. To punish carriers, the FTC should simply request the name of the carrier on the device that was illegally called. It can then fine carriers—a dime per call—for each illegal call reported on their networks. Considering there were 48 billion illegal robocalls in 2018, carriers could face as much as $4.8 billion in fines if they fail to step up to the plate.

Tougher Enforcement. Tougher Penalties. And Criminal Prosecutions.

Although carriers should be incentivized through fines, the responsibility to fight robocalls is not theirs alone. Government agencies must be tougher in cracking down on those responsible for illegal robocalls.

Suggested changes include:

  1. The FCC and FTC should increase fines. In 2018, the agency fined illegal robocaller Adrian Abramovich $120 million for 97 million robocalls—a rate of about one dollar per call. While it’s unknown exactly how much money Abramovich swindled from the victims of his vacation scams, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did report that the ruse disrupted the operations of an emergency medical paging provider. By slowing down the network, Pai stated, Abramovich could have delayed vital emergency medical care.
  2. The FTC should collect fines more swiftly. From 2013 to 2015, the FCC announced approximately $235 million in fines to communications firms—but as of November 2015, had collected $0. As of 2018, in fact, the FTC has only collected $121 million in fines— a fraction of the total fines levied. Slow and limited fine collection lets offenders off the hook and encourages others to try their hand at the illegal telemarketing trade.
  3. The FTC should consider implementing criminal penalties on top of civil ones, as Connecticut did in 2018. Illegal robocalling businesses might think twice about their actions should they face time behind bars in addition to fines.

(Read the full Robocall paper here).