No matter who you are, you and I have at least one thing in common.
We both hate robocallers and telemarketers.
Everyone hates everything about them -- the interruptions, the dishonesty, the way they make both personal and business phone numbers almost useless. It's an enormous problem.
During July alone, Americans received 4.7 billion spam and robocalls. That's more than one per day for every phone line in the United States. And it costs U.S. businesses hundreds of millions of dollars -- maybe a lot more.
On Thursday, however, a team comprised of 12 of the biggest telecom companies along with every single one of the 51 U.S. state attorneys general (50 states plus Washington, D.C.) announced a new plan to fight back.
- Give all U.S. mobile phone customers call-blocking technology at no charge.
- Roll out a system called STIR/SHAKEN that labels incoming calls for consumers as real or suspected spam.
- Work together to investigate and trace calls that are made illegally.
- Agree to identify commercial customers and cooperate with law enforcement.
"Robcalls are a scourge--at best, annoying, at worst, scamming people out of their hard-earned money," North Carolina attorney general Josh Stein said ahead of the agreement. "By signing on to these principles, industry leaders are taking new steps to keep your phone from ringing with an unwanted call."
When this will roll out wasn't specified, and of course, it's hard to know how effective it will be.
For example, will spammy telemarketers just figure out a way to defeat STIR/SHAKEN, and make it look as if robocalls are mistakenly identified as legitimate?
But it's also great to see these entities teaming up here. The telecom companies include Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Consolidated, Frontier, U.S. Cellular and Windstream.
However, there is one big problem with the plan, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It's that most robocalls and spam calls originate on the networks of smaller telecom companies, which haven't signed the agreement.
So, if you're stupid enough to try to run calls like this originating on Verizon, you'll be in trouble. But if you're on a no-name network that the state attorneys general haven't been working with, detection will be harder.
The big companies and prosecutors are aware of that. The hope is that as larger telecom companies enter into contracts with smaller companies, they'll include cooperating with law enforcement as one of the terms.
It would lead to a daisy-chained way of going after spammy telemarketers and robocalls, but if it works, I don't think too many people will complain.
Meanwhile, Washington is in fact working on a tougher anti-robocalling bill. Different versions have passed both the House and Senate, but it hasn't made it out of Congress yet.
So, here's to cooperation, and ingenuity, and to the hope that one day we'll all be able to answer our phones again. Until that day, there's always Lenny.