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Robocalls decline in March as task force combats coronavirus-related scams

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According to YouMail, robocalls in the U.S. are down last month, falling to 4.1 billion in March compared to 4.8 billion calls in February. Jonathan Spalter, USTelecom – The Broadband Association CEO & President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith to discuss the outlook on robocalls amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Coronavirus text and phone scams have been a big topic over the past couple of weeks. Maybe you have received some phone calls pitching free coronavirus test kits, some phony remedies, or maybe even cleaning services. Those initially escalated at the beginning of the outbreak.

But it's interesting if you take a look at the data in terms of what we are seeing today, because they've actually started to taper back a bit. So for more on this, I want to bring in Jonathan Spalter, US Telecom, the Broadband Association CEO and president. And Jonathan, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

Let's start with the robocalls and the number of text and phone scams that maybe some of our viewers have experienced since the coronavirus outbreak. Now US Telecom, it leads the industry's traceback route, which traces the source of illegal robocalls, so you are exactly the right person to talk to about this. What have you seen just in terms of the number of calls that have been placed over the past couple of weeks?

JONATHAN SPALTER: Well, sad to say, just to start out, Seana, that there really are still some bad actors that are out there, that are trying to take advantage of our most vulnerable population in this national emergency. And it's not just here, but it's around the globe.

The good news, though, is that the country's broadband providers have gathered together under US Telecom's industry traceback group to go after them. We've been sharing information and insight in real-time to trace back right to where the sources of these bad calls are coming from and sending that information right over to our law enforcement agencies here in government and also at our attorneys general across the country.

The good news is that it's had an impact. We've seen downstream scams that have been stopped right at the start, not just by going after the bad actors, but by going after some of the under the radar providers that have been letting in some of these junk calls into our networks. We've alerted them and they've shut down access to those bad actors.

So the good news is that the COVID scams are beginning to trail off, but we still have work to do. And that's why we are all working together vigilantly to go after these bad guys, using our technologies and tools to trace back across the hops on our network, make sure that these bad actors are not scamming us, but are going to jail and going on perp walks.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, it's interesting when you take a look at some of the numbers. The producer-- one of our producers gave me the numbers from YouMail, and they were talking about the number of robo call volumes declined from 4.8 billion calls in February in the US to 4.1 billion in March. So there's still a huge number of these calls taking place.

When we talk about the decrease that we've seen recently, is this something that you think will just be a short term thing, or is this some thing-- have we been learning different tactics or different approaches that could make sure that this lasts for the long-term, going forward?

JONATHAN SPALTER: No, I'm very optimistic that this is a harbinger of even more aggressive efforts against robo callers and illegal scammers. And it's not just our traceback efforts, but we have been really innovating and putting online a range of technologies, STIR/SHAKEN technologies, consumer education tools, much closer coordination and tight coordination with law enforcement agencies at the state level, at the federal level, to move not just from civil prosecution, but to criminal prosecution. So it's an all hands on deck approach here to make sure that we're going to see these trend lines not just go down, but to continue to go down.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, Jonathan, I want to switch gears here a little bit and just talk about what we've seen in the telecom industry overall, also just in terms of since we have a large number of people really across the world working from home at this point.

Now US Telecom is an organization that represents a number of very large telecom companies, and some of those, our parent company Verizon, also AT&T, Twilio, Oracle, just to name a few. How are networks holding up at this time, and are they performing as they were designed? Are they performing up to the potential that we had hoped for under a circumstance like this?

JONATHAN SPALTER: The answer is absolutely yes. Our networks are actually performing. We're meeting needs. We're not exceeding capacity, even as traffic continues to shift during the daytime and as more of our economy goes home to work. And that's not by accident. It's because there have been years of investment and innovation.

The last couple of years were trailing around $80 billion of infrastructure investment annually by broadband providers to ensure that our networks are architected in the right way with advanced technologies, caching, virtualization, data centers, and also IP-based network methodologies that allow us to actually manage traffic efficiently, including during surges like we're seeing now in traffic.

In fact, just last week, it was up 20%, the week before, 25%, according to the numbers that we're monitoring. But our networks are strong. We're on the barricades, and we're continuing to make sure that they're going to meet the needs of every consumer, regardless of what they are, regardless of where they are. And that's our commitment.

SEANA SMITH: Yeah, Jonathan, it's interesting when we compare what's going on here in the US to what's going on overseas over in Europe. Because there has been reports or stories, obviously, about the streaming platforms in Europe have slowed down a little bit, that they haven't been able to keep up with that demand. Why are we seeing a difference of what's happening here compared to what's happening overseas?

JONATHAN SPALTER: The difference, really, is about the extent of network investment in our networks. Here in the United States, we have been investing significantly more in ensuring that our networks can be not just resilient, but scalable, that we're advancing towards 5G networks, using all of the available technologies that we've been actually deploying.

And the reason that there has been differences in network performance really has to do with the fact that we've architected an investment in our networks here in the United States in ways that have surpassed other areas, including Europe.

SEANA SMITH: Hey, Jonathan, I want to follow up on the 5G comment that you made there. Some reports out there, some thought that maybe this coronavirus outbreak, that it will delay some of the 5G efforts here in the US. What do you think?

JONATHAN SPALTER: I don't think so. We've been working very closely with our colleagues at the Federal Communications Commission. They are dead set to ensure that 5G-related spectrum auctions can proceed aggressively. We're not letting up on investment or architecting those networks. We're really advancing our test beds and deployment schedules.

Yes, there are challenges that are operational and that we're facing in the short term. But our goal is to continue to lean in as an industry and ensure that we're going to actually deploy and lead globally in 5G technology.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Jonathan Spalter, US Telecom, the Broadband Association CEO and president, thanks so much for joining me.

JONATHAN SPALTER: Thank you very much.