FCC Chairman Pushes for Default, Free Robocall Blocking

FCC's Ajit Pai wants to give phone companies more power to block robocalls

The agency's current thinking, though, is that "Allowing default call-blocking by voice providers could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of such tools".

Voice service providers may offer opt-out call-blocking programs based on any reasonable analytics created to identify unwanted calls and will have flexibility on how to dispose of those calls, such as sending straight to voicemail, alerting the customer of a robocall, or blocking the call altogether. One proposal in the Senate would grant the government more power to pursue robocall fraudsters, while another set of proposals in the House would take additional aim at legitimate businesses, such as debt collectors, that ring smartphone owners excessively. The systems would include protections against blocking emergency calls, and consumers would be able to opt-out of call blocking if they wish. If it's suspicious, the carrier can block the call from going through. We know robocallers are annoying to our customers.

And then there are extreme examples, he added, that might have made providers reluctant to embrace sweeping action in the past that could expose them to legal liability: "It's the fear that you block a number and it's Grandma calling and she's having a heart attack".

Providers should clearly disclose to consumers what types of calls may be blocked. He said the analytics are aimed at stopping scams and look for patterns like "floods of calls in the network or numerous short-duration calls".

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Commissioners are expected to vote June 6 to allow carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, to automatically register customers for technology to block calls from telephone numbers not in the phones' contacts lists.

According to a news release from the FCC released Wednesday, many providers had held off on developing and implementing call-blocking tools by default because they weren't sure if it was legal under the FCC's rules to implement them. "For too long the @FCC has wasted time holding workshops and summits instead of holding bad actors responsible", said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who is a Democrat.

"We've authorized carriers to block robocalls from certain spoof numbers, we've authorized the creation of a reassigned database", Pai said. The bill would improve enforcement policies, criminalize illegal robocalling, and require phone companies to use a new technology that can validate that calls are originating where they claim to be coming from. Pai, a Republican, says he hopes it will give consumers the "peace of mind that they deserve".

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