FCC gives telcos the authority to block robocalls

Some businesses that use robocalls tried to dissuade the FCC from action. (Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today voted unanimously to give telcos the authority to identify and block robocalls without having to first get permission from subscribers. However, phone companies are not required to block robocalls. And they also are not prohibited from charging for robocall blocking services.

The FCC said it received 232,000 complaints about unwanted calls in 2018. In an FCC meeting today, Chairman Ajit Pai called the automated unsolicited calls "the scourge of civilization." And Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said Americans have been getting about 5 billion robocalls a month, of late. “That is 2,000 robocalls every second of every day,” she said. “That is insane.”

Today, the FCC commissioners voted to approve a rule that enables voice service providers to target and block calls that technology reveals are likely to be scams or other unwanted calls. Consumers have the choice to opt out of call blocking, in the unlikely event that they would want to do that.

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Commissioner Rosenworcel voted for the order, but she voiced dissent on one aspect: that it doesn’t prohibit carriers from charging for the anti-robocall service. “There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers with this blocking technology. I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers,” she said.

Chairman Pai said, “We have cleared the path for a dramatic expansion of call blocking technologies so that a phone call can be stopped before it even gets to your phone.”

Some businesses like robocalls

Pai also acknowledged recent reports that some businesses — such as debt collectors, banks and healthcare providers — like robocalls.

RELATED: Businesses object to FCC’s plan to block robocalls

“Earlier, I said everybody wants to crack down on unwanted robocalls,” Pai said. “That’s not entirely accurate. Many robocallers oppose what we are doing and asked us to delay our vote today. Today was not the time for delay and stalling tactics. It was a time for action.”  

The FCC plans to monitor the adoption and implementation of the STIR/SHAKEN framework which was developed by industry groups ATIS and SIP Forum to tackle the issue of phone spamming and robocalls. The FCC plans to hold a summit on July 11 to seek information from carriers about that framework. Pai also said the agency would continue to “pursue aggressive enforcement action” against robocallers.

The U.S. Senate recently passed Senate bill 151, creating the “Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act” (TRACED Act) to deter robocalls.

According to YouMail, a free robocall blocking software for mobile phones, some of the most prevalent robocalls include Social Security scams and student loan scams. Washington, D.C., surpassed Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as the city with the most robocalls per person, according to YouMail. And areas in the South continued to receive the most robocalls in 2019, just as they did for all of 2018.

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