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CRTC stepping in to help identify robocalls

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Canada’s telecommunications regulator is mandating that telecom companies implement new technology aimed at bringing Canadians some relief from spoof and fraudulent phone calls.

In a speech to the Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto on Monday, CRTC chair Ian Scott said the country’s telecom companies have until Nov. 30 to update their networks to meet a technical standard that gives telecom providers the ability to validate a caller’s identity.

Scott said unwanted calls, or robocalls, have become such a widespread problem that they are contributing to an “erosion of confidence in the telecommunications system.”

“Something in the order of 25 per cent, or more than 25 per cent, of all the calls made on mobile networks are robocalls,” Scott said in an interview following his address. “It’s a huge problem, and it’s going to require tremendous effort by regulators and co-operation by the industry to address.”

In 2019, the CRTC approved the establishment of the Canadian Secure Token-Governance Authority Inc., an industry group whose role is to encourage industry-wide adoption of policies, protocols, and operating procedures to mitigate spoofing and illegal robocalling.

One piece of the puzzle is called Secure Telephony Information Revisited, or STIR, a technical standard that provides a means for carriers to authenticate the identity of callers.

The other component, known as “Shaken,” is short for “signature-based handling of asserted information using tokens” and refers to the framework for implementing the standard in IP-based service providers’ networks.

While the only deadline Canadian carriers must meet by the end of the month is to update their networks to enable the implementation of the technology, Scott said the vision is to give Canadians the ability to determine which calls are legitimate and worth answering, and which need to be treated with caution.

Ultimately, Scott said call recipients could see a caller ID that pops up with either a “red light” or “green light” beside the name, indicating whether the caller’s identity has been verified by the carrier or not.

Scott added the CRTC has also required service providers to either provide their subscribers with the ability to filter calls or to implement a call-blocking system.

He said Bell Canada has gone so far as to apply to the CRTC to permanently block calls that are confirmed as fraudulent on the company’s network. He said Bell has been testing this technology over the past two years and has blocked more than 1.1 billion calls between July 2020 and October 2021.

The CRTC is currently reviewing Bell’s application and expects to issue a decision soon, Scott said.

Other carriers should also consider ways they can do more to protect their subscribers against nuisance and potentially harmful activities on their networks, Scott said, adding robocalls are often used by criminals looking to dupe hard-working people out of their money and their sensitive data.

He said it should be carriers, not consumers, who pay the costs associated with implementing robocall-mitigating technologies.

“This is not a profit opportunity, but an opportunity to engage with and support customers, and to build their confidence in your ability to serve,” Scott said in his speech.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2021.

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