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AT&T CEO interrupted by a robocall on stage during live interview

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

AT&T (T) CEO Randall L. Stephenson was interrupted Wednesday afternoon by a robocall while on stage at an event at the Economic Club of Washington, DC.

“I’m getting a robocall,” he said. “It’s literally a robocall.”

The timing couldn’t have been better. On the same day, AT&T announced that it and Comcast (CMCSA), two of the largest telecom companies in the U.S., have exchanged “dozens” of calls with a new technology designed to be as robocall-proof as possible, something the companies are calling an “industry first.”

The new technology is a system called SHAKEN/STIR, which is being implemented across the U.S., prompted by the FCC. Unwanted robocalls are the biggest complaint the agency receives, and it has prioritized eradicating robocalls.

The technology works by the caller’s network “signing” or authenticating a call that goes out, adding a digital signature like a quality-control mark. On the other side, the network that receives the call can verify this signature.

Most robocalls use a fake caller ID — a process called “spoofing” — and they do it so often that blocking numbers is futile. Often, they momentarily hijack a real number and never use it again. But with SHAKEN/STIR technology, spoofed calls would not be verified, and thus would be easy to label or block. It’s not foolproof, as calls that are not spam may not always be signed, as not every carrier may use the technology. (The system will say a call is legit, but it won’t say a call is NOT legit.)

The announcement Wednesday represented only a test — the system is expected to roll out this year and next — a central repository for authentication certificates has not been established.

AT&T’s implementation of this technology appears to be ahead of schedule. In November 2018, the company sent the FCC its plans for the future and indicated the second quarter of 2019 as when it would exchange signed calls with Comcast, a good sign for the annoyed public. But more needs to be done before the system makes a difference, including more field testing and the ability to function with many different types of calls.

Thought this is auspicious in the fight against robocalls, don’t expect them to stop just yet.


Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, personal finance, retail, airlines, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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