FCC Commissioner unimpressed with carriers’ actions against robocalls

Young woman on smartphone (Image: homethods.com)
Starks said the FCC will begin a rulemaking process if it finds that “carriers are acting contrary to our expectations.” (Pixabay)

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks is not happy with wireless carriers’ progress in combating robocalls.


Starks requested in June information from the major wireless carriers about their plans to offer default robocall blocking services to customers for free. After hearing from 14 carriers across the country, Starks said he was disappointed that some of the carriers had not yet begun to offer such features to customers.


“Despite historically clamoring for new tools, it does not appear that all providers have acted with haste to deploy opt-out robocall blocking services,” he said in a statement (PDF). “The Commission spoke clearly: we expect opt-out call blocking services to be offered to consumers for free. Reviewing the substance of these responses, by and large, carriers’ plans for these services are far from clear.”


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Despite the FCC’s clarification in June that carriers can block robocalls by default for customers without violating FCC rules, the carriers by and large seem hesitant to do so.


AT&T has claimed it’s the first to roll out an opt-out robocall-blocking service to customers for free. The company is adding automatic robocall-blocking technology to its customers’ accounts through an expansion of its AT&T’s Call Protect program.


T-Mobile said it already offers a call-blocking service to customers for free, called Scam ID and Scam Block, but noted that customers must opt-in to the service. The carrier noted (PDF) that “the establishment of a carrier safe harbor from liability for call blocking” would be “an important precursor to the establishment of an opt-out regime.”


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Sprint echoed that sentiment in its own response. “Because it is inevitable that legal calls will occasionally be falsely identified as illegal robocalls, carriers must have some form of liability protection.” 


The carrier said (PDF) it plans to roll out a free robocall-blocking application that it has developed with TNS to customers in the “near future.” The app also requires customers to opt-in, and select which calls to block. It added that the company is committed to implementing the SHAKEN/STIR protocol across its network by the end of 2019.


Verizon touted its “Call Filter” service, which uses SHAKEN/STIR protocols for caller ID verification, but it didn’t mention any plans for an opt-out call blocking service. Instead, it suggested (PDF) “a simple rule that would make it illegal for any caller to use any phone number that it is not authorized to use.”


Starks said the FCC will begin a rulemaking process if it finds that “carriers are acting contrary to our expectations.”


“I expect to be updated by carriers as progress is made on offering free call blocking services and recommend that carriers not stop until the job is finished,” he said.