FCC proposes new tools to arm phone companies against robocalls

Alfred Osborne
May 16, 2019

Major carriers and third-party app developers already offer free or paid call blocking applications, but they require customers to opt into the service.

The FCC claims wireless carriers have not pursued tools that allow calls to be blocked by default because of legal uncertainty about such tools under the FCC's rules.

The proposal would establish call blocking services as a default setting for consumers. That's when the government gave carriers explicit, although narrow, permission to block certain types of calls.

A proposal by the agency would give phone companies the authority to block the calls by default before they ever get to your phone.

The call-blocking company YouMail issues estimates of nationwide robocalls each month. T-Mobile in January launched a caller verification feature based on the SHAKEN/STIR framework, and Verizon followed suit in March. If passed, customers could opt in to a filter system that would only allow calls through from numbers in their contacts, dubbed a "white list".

The Federal Communications Commission has been fighting robocalls for years, but it hasn't made much headway.

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Three-quarters of the U.S. Senate back legislation to provide regulators and law enforcement authorities the additional tools to prevent illegal robocalls and punish robocallers. Carriers would also have flexibility in how they dispose of spam calls, such as sending the calls straight to voicemail, alerting the customer of the robocalls, or blocking the calls altogether.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on the future of 5G, Huawei, digital privacy and collecting robocall fines.

"We chose this industry-led path because it is the fastest way to help consumers, but I remain committed to taking regulatory action" if carriers do not act this year, Pai said in a statement on Monday. Verizon's anti-robocall tool is free, but Sprint's Premium Caller ID tool is not. The number breaks down to an average of 10 monthly calls per person.

This new measure will be considered by the full Commission at its June 6 Open Commission Meeting.

What's more, as people in the US get a barrage of spam calls, many are increasingly choosing not to answer the phone at all. A big problem with robocalls is that many are "spoofed", or faked to look like they're coming from a number that matches your area code and the next three digits of your number, so you think it's a neighbor and are more likely to pick up.

Many robocalls are not scam calls, though, but calls from debt collectors and telemarketers selling insurance, cruises and the like.

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