New measures could help thwart scam calls for robocall-plagued US

Ceria Alfonso
May 16, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed granting AT&T, Verizon and other telecom carriers clearer powers to block suspected spam calls from ringing consumers' phones, a move that comes a month after robocallers dialed Americans almost 5 billion times, according to one industry estimate.

The rising volume of calls in the last few years has created pressure on Congress, regulators and phone companies to act.

Under the proposed rules, the agency won't require carriers to provide such services or mandate that the tools offered are free.

Allowing the default call-blocking could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of the tools, Pai said. Today, some of these apps cost extra money, others are free.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will reportedly crack down on illegal robocalls on Wednesday. He said he anticipates that companies won't charge extra because it would cost less than the headache of dealing with robocalls and customer complaints about them today.

The FCC's efforts come in response to a growing chorus of critics who feel the USA government hasn't acted swiftly or aggressively enough to punish scammers who place unwanted calls or texts to consumers - or prod telecom carriers to improve their anti-robocall technology.

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Many robocalls are not scam calls, though, but calls from debt collectors and telemarketers selling insurance, cruises and the like.

To that end, Pai on Wednesday also put forward a proposal that allows telecom companies using the new, call authentication technology to block suspected spam calls on behalf of consumers. He raised the threat of regulatory action "if the companies do not take the steps necessary to protect consumers". In addition, companies could allow users to block calls not on their contact lists, Pai said.

"There is no doubt that this can only help, that it's a good thing". The systems would include protections against blocking emergency calls, and consumers would be able to opt-out of call blocking if they wish. A bipartisan bill in the Senate, the TRACED Act, would force carriers to adopt a system in 18 months that verifies that the number that pops up on your caller ID is real.

"Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and exhausted of robocalls".

Pai said this week he expects major phone providers to implement those caller ID standards this year and will host a summit on July 11 to review the industry's progress.

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