Let’s Clean Up Our Call Center Vocabulary

One of the earliest issues raised in the context of “robocall” processing was the inherent ambiguity of that term. The exact scope of a “robocall” still remains unclear, and even today different government agents (i.e., the FCC and FTC) have different definitions of that term. In the past, particularly in the context of analytics-based call blocking, we were saddled with a vocabulary that used inherently nebulous terms, such as referencing “illegal” or “legal” calls. The terms “wanted” and “unwanted” calls were no better. This vocabulary does not lend itself to precision, and it is evident that after several years, the use of such “loaded” terms facilitates rhetoric, but not a common understanding.

Nebulous Terms, Imprecise Vocabulary

We have an opportunity to put this behind us as we submit comments to the FCC on the Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) on call blocking, which is due July 24. In the realm of Shaken/Stir, we instead refer to calls as being “unsigned” or “signed.” Or, we refer to a call as having a full, partial, or gateway level of attestation. These are precise terms, and it allows us to discuss issues very clearly.

Consider one example. The NPRM is full of questions and statements referencing various nebulous terms (such as “illegal calls” or “unwanted calls”) in the context of Shaken/Stir technology. For example, the NPRM states in paragraph 55, “Are there any particular protections we should establish for a safe harbor to ensure that wanted calls are not blocked?” In a Shaken/Stir environment, we discuss calls that are signed or not; we discuss that if calls are signed, there is a validation process at the terminating carrier. If the call is validated, we can then discuss an indicated level of attestation. The concept of what is a “wanted” or “unwanted” call is not defined in Shaken/Stir and has no place when discussing the Shaken/Stir processes. We can clarify, for example, that calls originating from conventional (older) TDMA telephone networks may not be signed. Thus, those calls, once they interwork with a VoIP network, may be passed unsigned. Or, if that call is interworked at a gateway at the VoIP carrier, then the call may be given a level of gateway attestation. If such calls are blocked, then VoIP subscribers may be blocking calls from other U.S. subscribers calling from in rural areas. Let’s frame the question that way, and not whether the VoIP subscriber is blocking a “wanted” or “unwanted” call.

Refining the Rhetoric of the Past

The rhetoric in the past would frame questions as, for example, “Are you in favor of ‘blocking unwanted or illegal calls’?” In a Shaken/Stir environment, the question should be, “Are you in favor of blocking any call that is unsigned (which includes callers from TDMA telephone networks)?” Or, “Are you in favor of blocking all gateway attested calls?” This reduces the rhetoric to facilitate the discussion of issues, not goals. If you or your association is preparing comments to the FCC, this is an important point to keep in mind. If we can shift the discussion to more precisely frame the issues, I think we all have a better chance of communicating our concerns.

The opinions presented here are those of Karl Koster, and not necessarily those of Noble Systems. The contents should not be construed as legal advice nor as comments reflecting any regulatory position of Noble Systems.


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