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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Federal agencies are stepping up efforts to crack down on illegal robocalls by going after the phone companies that connect or enable them.

Why it matters: Robocalls number in the billions each month, according to data from YouMail. Federal agencies are responding by expanding their focus beyond the scam callers themselves.

Yes, but: This is only the latest in a years-long series of would-be federal crackdowns, but the calls continue. Last month, there were 153 million calls per day, with the average person receiving 14.4 calls in the month, according to the YouMail data.

Driving the news: The Federal Communications Commission became the latest agency to make a move against robocallers Tuesday, as part of a coordinated effort with the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to ensure that carriers are doing their part to halt illegal calls.

  • The FCC's enforcement chief encouraged seven phone companies that allow international calls into U.S. networks to step up efforts to trace back the originators of illegally spoofed foreign robocalls.
  • Letters to the companies say the FCC will be monitoring the so-called gateway providers, which accept foreign calls to U.S. consumers, to see if they cooperate with efforts to identify those making foreign robocalls.
  • "The FCC’s goal is to see greater buy-in from gateway providers on traceback efforts to help us protect consumers against international scam robocalls," agency spokesperson Will Wiquist said. "As for their participation in this process today, it is safe to say we feel like they could do significantly more."

Context: The FCC's letters followed a first-of-its-kind enforcement from the Justice Department last week against telecom carriers it says facilitated millions of fraudulent robocalls.

  • The DOJ, which sought restraining orders to stop the transmission of illegal robocall traffic, said the companies were already warned repeatedly about the issue.
  • The DOJ said most of the scam calls originated from India and led to "massive financial losses."
  • “We are using all available tools and resources to stop foreign call center scammers — and for the first time their U.S.-based enablers — from conning elderly and vulnerable victims in New York and throughout the United States,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement.

For its part, the FTC sent letters last week to 19 Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers warning them the agency will take action if they knowingly facilitate illegal robocalls.

On the industry side, T-Mobile, Sprint and Comcast outlined progress Tuesday on implementing anti-robocall technology that will verify calls are really coming from the number displayed on the caller ID.

Go deeper: Robocallers face fight on many fronts

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

The billionaire balloon

Data: World Inequality Report 2022; Chart: Axios Visuals

The super-rich are getting stupid rich: New data out today shows the share of global wealth held by the richest slice of humanity swelled by almost a full percentage point during the pandemic.

Driving the news: The top 0.01% of individuals now hold about 11% of the world's wealth, compared to just over 10% in 2020, according to the "World Inequality Report 2022," written by Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
1 hour ago - Health

Omicron gives a shot to boosters

Expand chart
Data: CDC; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Vaccination rates have ticked higher since the discovery of the Omicron variant, CDC data shows.

By the numbers: The seven-day average for vaccinations in the U.S. reached about 1.8 million on Monday, up from an average of about 1.3 million a month ago.

Scoop: Over 200 papers quietly sue Big Tech

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Newspapers all over the country have been quietly filing antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook for the past year, alleging the two firms monopolized the digital ad market for revenue that would otherwise go to local news. 

Why it matters: What started as a small-town effort to take a stand against Big Tech has turned into a national movement, with over 200 newspapers involved across dozens of states.