5 Billion Robocalls in March: Can We Finally Admit the US Strategy Is Failing?

I complained last year that many parties were reporting a downward trend for robocalls in the USA even though the data showed the opposite to be true. FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks delivered a prime example of this Alice-through-the-looking-glass interpretation of statistics during a commission meeting held in May 2022.

Now is not the time for us to take our foot off the gas because, according to YouMail, there were 3.9 billion robocalls placed last month but positive signs are that the numbers are trending downwards from last year.

Starks was not alone in pretending that up is down and that black is white. In 2022 there were plenty of businesses and so-called experts who reported the trend was downward to a series of journalists who were too damned lazy to check the numbers for themselves. The coterie of well-paid lawyers who vet the speeches of every FCC Commissioner would not have approved Stark’s misleading assertion were it not for the cover provided by so many other American professionals who also squinted their eyes and convinced themselves that an upward trend line had somehow turned an imaginary corner. That nonsense has thankfully come to an end, though only because the number of robocalls keeps rising, as demonstrated by figures from the YouMail Robocall Index (pictured above), the most reliable measure of robocalls in the USA. Last month they calculated Americans received 4.996 billion robocalls; I have provided that many decimal places lest anyone claim I exaggerate when rounding up to 5 billion. That is the highest monthly total since November 2019, and 27 percent worse than the April 2022 statistic that Starks cited when he said robocalls were trending downwards.

Like other people, I can also identify trends. Much of the readership of Commsrisk has been drawn to this site by repeating one simple trick: I take note of when somebody gets away with making a claim that is stupid/wrong/dishonest and I just keep pointing out the absurdity of what they said as every passing year reaffirms how stupid/wrong/dishonest they were. This approach does not yield instant benefits but I comfort myself that the madness might otherwise go on for even longer. And it works as a business model because I never lack for new examples of chicanery and charlatanism. Sales of snake oil are also trending upwards, and have done for as long as I have been monitoring them. But even I find it difficult to understand why the US telecoms industry and its regulator, the FCC, keep doubling down on an obviously flawed strategy. Are they really so incompetent that they cannot tell why it is failing?

Plenty of American professionals understand why the current strategy for robocall reduction is failing. I know this because various industry insiders have independently come to me to voice their frustrations. It is unfortunate that they cannot find a more willing audience amongst decision-makers; they strongly suggest that those in power will not listen to reason, despite the obvious and recurring signs of failure. A mixture of groupthink and pride requires the leading decision-makers to keep pursuing the same flawed strategy because the alternative is to admit the need for a course correction. That would also imply that some of the experts who exerted most influence over the current strategy were a lot less expert than they realized. Sometimes a change of direction requires a change of who sits at the wheel, but expert advisors never like being told their advice was bad, and the people who appointed them may also be reluctant to admit they selected the wrong advisors.

Some industry insiders are telling me that the robocalling situation in the USA is even worse than these headline figures would suggest. They believe that an increasing number of legal calls are being blocked, whilst other legitimate calls are being incorrectly labeled as spam. The authorities in the USA keep insisting their efforts are worthwhile because the number of robocalls would otherwise be even worse. Any fool can reduce the number of illegal calls if they are also willing to interfere with legal calls too. If these anecdotal stories are representative then the current strategy has not just failed to give Americans a reason to trust their phones again. It is also giving Americans new reasons to distrust the communications ecosystem because they are being denied the opportunity to answer some of the calls they should have received.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.