UPDATED 9:45 AM PT — Friday, June 7, 2019
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is taking action against robocalls by declaring a new rule giving phone companies and their customers the power to block those incoming calls. The agency is following through on its promise to do something about the problem.
The rule opens the door for service providers to develop and use technology that stops those calls from ringing. They can set it up using the phone directory saved by the customer. If the phone number is not saved in the list, the call will not go through.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said this rule will protect older Americans, who he says are often targeted by robocallers.
“If you set up a list of phone numbers for your grandmother or grandfather, they could know that whatever calls they do get are coming from trusted people, loved ones, their doctor, their pharmacy,” he explained.
Pai was one of three out of the five commissioners to vote in favor of the rule. The one commissioner who voted against the measure issued a statement afterward. Jessica Rosenworcel likes the idea of blocking calls, but has argued companies should not be allowed to charge customers for use of the technology. However, there is nothing in the ruling about companies being allowed to charge a fee for the service. The rule states they can use the technology as a default, but must let customers opt out if they want.
While the rule takes effect immediately, chairman Pai explained why calls will not be blocked right away.
“This technology is still being developed by carriers, but we want to encourage them to give consumers this option as soon as possible,” he stated. “Time is not on the side of American consumers who are sick and tired of unwanted robocalls.”
The FCC is asking for public comments on two possible robocall rules. One would require service providers to make sure the phone numbers calling people are real by using a caller ID framework called SHAKEN/STIR. Another rule could protect phone numbers from being spoofed or used as a disguise by robocallers, so the victim thinks the call is from someone legitimate.
For now, the calls keep coming. During a Senate Appropriations Financial subcommittee hearing in May, with chairman Pai as a witness, ranking member Chris Coons pointed out a startling figure.
“Americans receive, I didn’t believe this number when it was first given to me, five billion robocalls a month,” he stated. “That means, and that’s more than double the number of calls received just two years ago, that means someone in this room is going to get a robocall during this hearing.”
Victims can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which runs the federal do not call list and investigates illegal scams.