US and EU Regulators Sign Robocall Agreement, but Only the US Says It Covers Robocalls

Last week Annemarie Sipkes (pictured right) of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC), an agency of the European Union, and Jessica Rosenworcel (pictured left) of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) signed an agreement that says their organizations will cooperate on this-and-that, following a tradition of previous agreements reached in 2012 and 2018. Now see if you can spot the difference in how the FCC and BEREC described the contents of their latest Memorandum of Understanding.

Here is the FCC tweet to announce the deal:

Here is the BEREC tweet to announce the same deal:

This is what the deal covers per the FCC press release:

  • Cooperation on electronic communications regulatory policy and other relevant topics related to the digital economy in the common interest of both organizations;
  • Encouraging and accelerating investment in broadband infrastructure deployment;
  • Promotion of 5G, 6G, and beyond;
  • Market shaping and competition aspects of spectrum management;
  • Sustainability in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector;
  • Robocall and other automated calls’ mitigation and prevention.

This is the list of topics covered by the deal per the BEREC press release:

  • cooperation on electronic communications, regulatory policy and other relevant topics related to the digital economy in the common interest of both organisations;
  • encouraging and accelerating investment in broadband infrastructure deployment;
  • promotion of 5G, 6G, and beyond;
  • market shaping and competition aspects of spectrum management and
  • sustainability in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector.

Did you notice that there were only five topics per BEREC’s list, compared to the six on the FCC’s list? The two descriptions are word-for-word identical until it is time to mention robocalls. BEREC, despite signing this deal, seemingly decided it was not even worth mentioning the inclusion of robocall mitigation amongst the subjects where they expect to learn from (or be schooled by) the FCC.

The FCC says this agreement demonstrates a “new focus” on tackling robocalls, but that is obviously not a topic that the EU’s regulators are focusing on, or else they would have mentioned it!

Most American journalists are far too lazy to check details like these; they will simply repeat whatever the FCC tells them about international cooperation. However, the exclusion of robocalls from the BEREC press release is important. Regulators are political appointees and they care about the issues that matter to their political masters. They seek to sway public opinion. The USA is worried about 5G and 6G because there are no big US manufacturers of RAN equipment; this also explains why Open RAN is so often mentioned by their politicians, even though it will not help them close the gap with the big suppliers in Europe and China. Robocalls also matter to US politicians because they upset so many US voters. In contrast, more European politicians are worried about broadband access, speed and cost, which is why those themes were emphasized in BEREC’s description of the same deal.

Regulators like the FCC cannot secure real international cooperation by just saying there will be coooperation. Motives have to be aligned, and priorities have to be common. US politicians and officials spend a lot of time telling US voters that there will be international cooperation to reduce robocalls; they need to blame foreigners and telcos for robocalls because they are incapable of punishing US criminals who make illegal calls. It is vital that the FCC keeps finding ways to distract attention from the failure to reduce US robocalls so far. However, evidence of meaningful international cooperation to reduce robocalls remains scant.

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.