Telcos, Regulators and Nonprofits Commit to Global Online Meeting on Call Validation

The organizers behind One Consortium, a new global industry initiative that intends to harmonize policies for the validation of calls between countries, have shared insights into the attendees who have registered for their first online meeting on September 7. Telcos that have registered to participate include most of the world’s largest wholesale carriers of international voice traffic, plus some of the biggest retail telcos, including:

  • A1 Telekom Group
  • AT&T
  • Axiata
  • BICS
  • BT
  • BTS
  • Charter Communications
  • Comcast
  • Deutsche Telekom
  • Etisalat
  • iBasis
  • Orange Group
  • PCCW Global
  • Tata Communications
  • Telecom Italia Sparkle
  • Telefónica
  • Telstra
  • Twilio
  • Verizon
  • Vodafone Group

Numerous associations have set up teams to explore how to reduce spoofing or how to confirm the origin of calls but coordination between these associations has been limited so far. i3forum, the club for wholesale carriers, are the prime movers behind One Consortium, but it is heartening to see they will be joined by:

  • the Global Solutions Council
  • the GSM Association
  • the International Telecom Risk Forum
  • the ITW Global Leaders’ Forum
  • the Mobile Ecosystem Forum
  • the Risk & Assurance Group

It will not be possible to obtain a compromise that accommodates the differing circumstances found in a wide variety of countries unless the most influential US players are willing to find common ground. That is why it is encouraging that the big US telcos will also be joined by some of the key movers in the development of the current US regime for reducing robocalls, including:

  • the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, the body responsible for the SHAKEN standards
  • the Industry Traceback Group, who do the work involved in tracing the origin of illegal calls received by Americans
  • the Secure Telephone Identity Governance Authority, the body which governs STIR/SHAKEN in the USA

There will also be representation from big tech and service vendors with an interest in this domain, including Microsoft and Infobip. However, there is a notable absence of some of the big STIR/SHAKEN suppliers who actively encourage regulators to copy the technologies they profitably implemented in the USA. Might they be running scared of a cross-border forum where telcos will lead the conversation? A truly global forum would mean it is no longer possible to make inconsistent promises concerning the way technology will be used to block calls. One country’s inbound international call is another country’s outbound international call. Blocking bad calls from bad foreigners sounds like a plan that everyone will agree to, until you are forced to acknowledge that not every country will have the same definition for which calls are ‘bad’. Furthermore, the countries that expect to do the most blocking have not promised to punish bad actors within their borders who make outbound international calls. Nobody wants a breakdown in international communications because a country feels its traffic is being unfairly blocked and so takes revenge by implementing tit-for-tat reciprocal blocks.

By only talking about technology, some vendors are effectively promoting an international arms race that will profit them as suppliers, but without taking any responsibility for de-escalating conflicts and remediating the mistakes that will inevitably occur from time to time. The failure of technology to correctly distinguish between good calls and bad calls is at the heart of the newest robocall scandal brewing in the USA. It has the potential to sour the whole global telephony ecosystem if replicated at large scale for international calls. That is why the global industry needs a more grown-up conversation than the typically simplistic marketing pitch about technology being the answer to every problem.

The organizers behind One Consortium have been less forthcoming about the national comms regulators who will join the meeting, for obvious reasons. However, they assure me that there have been registrations from regulators in countries that are currently taking an active interest in how to prevent CLI spoofing and reduce scams. I will not be alone in monitoring which regulators like to talk to journalists about the need for international cooperation to stop scam calls but chose not to engage with the most serious cross-border initiative in this domain.

There is the potential for a win-win deal that will greatly reduce the suffering caused by consumer scams whilst also being profitable for telcos because of the amount they will save by eliminating certain categories of inter-telco fraud. But a win-win agreement is unlikely to be reached if the majority of regulators choose to behave like little emperors, expecting the rest of the world to court their favor instead of exploring the potential for compromises that are also acceptable to their regulatory peers in other countries. This global online meeting inevitably means some participants will have to rise early in the morning whilst others will be joining late at night. National regulators should not expect that their work only needs to occur during office hours.

The online meeting is open to anyone who registers in advance, and is scheduled to begin at 7am US Eastern time on Thursday, September 7. The provisional agenda includes the following elements:

  • Address by meeting hosts Philippe Millet and Christian Michaud of i3forum
  • A summary of current challenges to be addressed
  • Introducing the proposal for a new body, called One Consortium, which will work on common solutions
  • Outlining an action plan involving the formulation of specific proposals and the process by which they will be agreed

There is a tangible sense of urgency behind the creation of One Consortium. Telcos are worried that inconsistent rules and incompatible technologies will lead regulators to have expectations that are not just unrealistic, but which will literally contradict each other. Because of this, I expect the participants in this first meeting will be keen to establish deadlines for progress. They cannot afford to waste time. Anyone wanting to influence the outcome should not assume they can wait for the second or third meeting before they show up and start listing non-negotiable demands.

Universal consensus would be ideal, but the major industry players cannot permit this initiative to be waylaid by any party that is slow to engage, then quick to cast a veto. When telcos really need to work across borders then we soon find the ones who will drive the industry forwards by reaching agreement. All others fall into line sooner or later. Individual countries and small groups of telcos who think they can impose their wishes on the rest of the industry will put themselves at far greater risk of the disadvantageous implementation of blocks on international calls.

An open letter explaining the goals of One Consortium can be found here. The registration form for anyone wishing to attend the September 7 online meeting is here.

Philippe Millet, Chairman of the i3forum, will be our guest for the next episode of The Communications Risk Show. We will talk to Philippe about the need for the One Consortium initiative and why he believes creating a new international body focused on the specific issue of call validation is more likely to succeed than pursuing consensus through an existing telecoms association. You can put your questions to Philippe if you join us for the livestream at 4pm UK time on Wednesday, August 30. Save the program to your diary by clicking here.

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.