Federal Communications Commission officials on Monday outlined priorities for a new federal advisory committee targeting hospital robocalls, which has six months to submit recommendations to the agency.
FCC on Monday hosted the first meeting of its Hospital Robocall Protection Group, an advisory committee established as part of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act of 2019. Under the TRACED Act, the 22-member committee has 180 days from its inception to develop best practices for hospitals and telecommunications service providers, giving it a deadline of roughly year-end.
The agency in July announced members of the committee, which is chaired by Dave Summitt, chief information security officer at the Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla.
The HRPG will comprise three working groups focused on priorities established in the TRACED Act.
Joseph DeLotto, vice president of voice and unified communications products at telecom company Charter Communications, will chair a working group on how telecom companies can prevent unlawful robocalls to hospitals.
The group focusing on how hospitals can better protect themselves from robocalls will be chaired by John Riggi, the American Hospital Association's senior adviser for cybersecurity and risk. The final group, on how federal and state governments can help, will be chaired by Creecy Johnson, special deputy attorney general at the North Carolina Attorney General's Office.
The groups will meet weekly to prepare recommendations for the full committee.
Robocalls are a top subject of complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission, said Noah Phillips, an FTC commissioner and HRPG member, during the Monday meeting.
And they're more than a nuisance for hospitals, as robocalls have clogged hospital phone lines reserved for patients, falsified caller IDs to appear as if the caller is located in the hospital—and subsequently requested health workers share protected health information—and even impersonated law enforcement to threaten doctors.
"All of that diverts precious resources from the management of the health and well-being of the American people," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who appointed the HRPG's members. "This is no mere nuisance even in the best of times, under normal conditions—and it's simply intolerable in the midst of a pandemic."
In a three-month period last year, Moffitt Cancer Center received more than 6,600 robocalls, including from scammers posing as internal phone numbers or government agencies, according to Summitt. Collectively, employees spent a combined 65 hours on phone calls later determined to be robocalls.
The calls waned after Summitt shared the analysis at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last year, but he's since seen a rise in robocalls related to COVID-19.
"They're much more than a nuisance and an annoyance," Summitt said. "They have the potential to be extremely disruptive and potentially dangerous."
Under the TRACED Act, FCC has 180 days from when the HRPG issues its best practices to evaluate the extent to which they could be implemented voluntarily.