Nation & World

FCC may allow companies to block robocalls

'We need to make it easier to block these calls'

Bloomberg

“The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says.
Bloomberg “The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says.

The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman proposed letting telephone companies block robocalls — a step that consumer groups welcomed but said wasn’t enough to squelch a growing scourge that has millions of people dodging unwanted calls.

“The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a news conference. “We need to make it easier for phone companies to block these robocalls.”

Under Pai’s proposal, the FCC would step away from decades of insisting that the phone network connect nearly all calls, and move into pressuring phone companies to shield consumers from unwanted interruptions including scams and sales pitches.

The changes need approval in a vote by the full commission, set for June 6.

As many robocalls are legal, it’s not clear what effect Pai’s order would have, Margot Saunders, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center.

The term “robocall” covers a wide array of calls, including such legal calls as school closing announcements and prescription or medical appointment reminders, the FCC said. Its proposed steps are designed to thwart unwanted calls.

“As far as it goes, it’s great. And whether it’s enough — I doubt it,” said Saunders, who works to stop unwanted calls. “It can’t block all robocalls because obviously there’s a lot of valid robocalls.

“It can’t block all spoofed calls because the law doesn’t make spoofed calls illegal.”

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Spoofed calls are those that display fake numbers to caller identification, making it falsely appear a call is coming from a familiar area code.

“While we appreciate the FCC’s continued interest in curbing robocalls, the commission needs to take stronger action,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports.

The FCC should require phone companies to offer free call-blocking, she said.

Telephone providers reacted cautiously. CTIA, a wireless trade group, in a statement from Senior Vice President Scott Bergmann said it’s committed to combating illegal and unwanted robocalls, and didn’t pledge new measures by its members.

Companies represented by CTIA include the top four U.S. mobile carriers — AT&T, Verizon Communications, T-Mobile US and Sprint.

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