FCC proposes new rules to allow carriers to block robocalls 'by default'

Woman using smartphone
Wireless carriers have been challenged in combating robocalls and call spoofing practices, which have grown enormously over the last few years. (Getty/LDProd)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has proposed allowing wireless carriers to block unwanted calls to their customers “by default.”


In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking draft, Pai outlines a policy that would create a safe harbor for providers that implement network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework. The new rules would also allow carriers to help consumers to block calls not on their own contact list.


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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.


“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” Pai said in a statement. “By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them.”


Pai said he hopes carriers will begin offering such services for free to customers. Under the rules, consumers would be able to opt-out of the service if they wished, and carriers must clearly disclose to customers what types of calls may be blocked. 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.


The latest proposal follows a 2017 ruling which allowed carriers to block some calls before they reach customers. Carriers are able to block calls that come from non-existent area codes, or from calls that are on the Do Not Originate list, meaning those numbers to do not make outbound calls. The FCC said its own consumer help line was being used to make illegitimate outgoing calls by spammers.


Pai has also proposed seeking public comment on how the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication standards can inform call blocking in the future.


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Wireless carriers have been challenged in combating robocalls and call spoofing practices, which have grown enormously over the last few years. T-Mobile has been the first to bring a solution to market that uses the STIR/SHAKEN protocols.


AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon have said they’ll roll out STIR/SHAKEN protocols throughout their networks sometime in 2019. Those three carriers already offer some spam and robocall blocking services to customers.


The FCC will consider the proposal at its June 6 meeting.


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