FCC to propose rules blocking robocalls

Phone companies would be encouraged to block spam calls under FCC proposal

The seal of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington

The FCC is seeking to broaden the uptick of call blocking services, which customers must now engage in voluntarily, as well as empower providers to further develop the technology.

But the FCC says many voice providers have held off on developing call blocking tools because it was unclear whether those tools were legal under FCC rules.

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it will vote in June on whether to allow to carriers block spam calls by default, which should mean that more spam calls are blocked. That's when the government gave carriers explicit, although narrow, permission to block certain types of calls.

Allowing the default call-blocking could significantly increase development and consumer adoption of the tools, Pai said.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated there were 4.9 billion unwanted usa calls last month after almost 48 billion in 2018, which was up almost 60 percent over 2017. The industry is working on deploying this long-in-the-works system, called "STIR/SHAKEN", but it's been a slow process. If passed, customers could opt in to a filter system that would only allow calls through from numbers in their contacts, dubbed a "white list". "We believe we need to make it easier for phone companies to block these robocalls". The FCC is pushing for phone companies to use an authentication framework for blocking unwanted calls that is dubbed "SHAKEN/STIR". A January report from Hiya, a caller ID service, said there were 26.3 billion robocalls made in the USA in 2018.

"We certainly are encouraging companies to offer this for free", said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

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"Today it finally proposes new policies to help block robocalls". Carriers would also have flexibility in how they dispose of spam calls, such as sending the calls straight to voicemail, alerting the customer of the robocalls, or blocking the calls altogether.

Verizon Communications Inc praised the FCC for "taking aggressive action and exploring new tools to protect consumers".

There's little time for the phone companies to get up to speed on the proposal. A big problem with robocalls is that many are "spoofed", or faked to look like they're coming from a number that matches your area code and the next three digits of your number, so you think it's a neighbor and are more likely to pick up.

If approved, the FCC's proposal would squash those fears and could take effect later this year.

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

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