Phone companies would be able to block annoying robocalls and other unwanted phone calls by default under new rules to be considered by the Federal Communications Commission.
Some landline and cellular providers do offer call-blocking features now, but consumers must opt in. The new rules proposed by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, to be voted on by the commission at its June 6 meeting, would eliminate some concern by phone companies that FCC rules make it illegal to deploy call-blocking tools.
The goal with the new regulations is “to set a clear legal foundation for the development and use of these call blocking tools by default,” Pai said Tuesday. “We want companies to develop a variety of tools for deterring how call blocking would work.”
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Despite increased attention given to robocalls, they just seem to keep getting through. The number of robocalls in the U.S. fell slightly in April after hitting a record 5.23 billion robocalls estimated calls in March, according to YouMail, a company that provides a service to block such messages. The estimated 4.9 million robocalls in April amounted about 163.5 million each day, YouMail says.
“The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls,” Pai said. “It is the top complaint we receive from consumers each and every year. We believe we need to make it easier for phone companies to block these robocalls.”
Recently, Comcast and T-Mobile launched cross-network verification of calls to prevent spam and robocalls. And Verizon made available a free “Call Filter” app to fight spam calls, too.
Over the last two years, the FCC has fined robocallers and sought industry advice on how to combat them.
Since many phone customers simply don’t opt in to use the rules, letting companies enact them by default, Pai said, would “greatly increase adoption of these services by consumers and help stem the flow of scam robocalls.”
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Pai is hoping voice providers will make the tools available free of charge. “We anticipate the cost of doing so will be less than the current status quo, in which they have to assume the costs of these robocalls going over their network to handling consumer complaints in connection with those robocalls,” he said.
The new rules would let service providers detect and analyze robocalls and block them, in an attempt to reduce the number of unwanted calls that get through. Depending on how the tools are designed, those calls could be blocked, sent to voicemail, or generate an alert sent to the recipient.
Phone companies would have to allow subscribers to opt out of robocall blocking tools, also. Smartphone and home phones could also block calls that don’t appear on their contact lists.
The FCC would also seek public comment on how new, in-development call technologies called SHAKEN (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and STIR (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) could help stop unwanted calls.
Those standards, expected to be available later this year, could identify calls that are not legitimate and, could be blocked by the provider. A “safe harbor” provision to be considered would protect companies that use those tools across their networks to block calls.
“There’s no silver bullet here,” Pai said. “We want to encourage experimentation that allows companies to figure out where consumer preferences are and then match the call blocking tool to those preferences.”
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