Should Phone Numbers Cost More?

It is often said that spammers and scammers are ingenious, but they generally act like straightforward business people who react predictably to any obstacles put in their path. If controls are implemented to stop the spoofing of unallocated numbers, they respond by acquiring allocated numbers and using them to originate their calls instead. And if analytics are used to identify numbers which have been used to originate an unusually high volume of calls, they will spread their calls over a greater variety of originating numbers to defeat the analytics. The US state of Maine has recognized this pattern of behavior and is deploying a simple new countermeasure: they have increased the cost of obtaining phone numbers belonging to their 207 area code.

Maine’s new law, entitled “An Act to Preserve the 207 Area Code and Impede So-called Robocalling”, requires all VoIP providers using the state’s numbers to register with the Maine Public Utilities Commission and then contribute financially to the state’s universal service fund, and to a second fund that will pay for comms services in schools and libraries. It is not clear how much telcos will be charged, as this will depend on a calculation about how much money is needed by each fund, before this cost is apportioned across all the registered providers. Nevertheless, it is clear that the state’s politicians are using unwanted robocalls as the justification for what is effectively a new tax. Per their press release:

This law is expected to help complement efforts by state and federal law enforcement officials working diligently to crack down on robocalling

Normally I despise stealth taxes imposed by governments as they tend to result in higher bills for end users. Maine has anticipated this likely development in their law, which says that if the cost of the new levies is passed on to customers then their bills must explicitly state what the charge is for. However, it is rational to tackle abuse by making the abuse of resources more expensive than before. Spamming and scamming have risen as the cost of making a call has fallen. There is merit in countering this trend by levying higher charges so that spammers and scammers have to spend a lot more to disguise what they are doing. It will be interesting to see if others choose to increase the cost of acquiring a phone number as a way to mitigate nuisance calls, in addition to its obvious potential as a means to raise money.

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.