The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to allow phone carriers the ability to automatically block suspected spam calls from customers’ phones but stopped short of preventing carriers from charging a fee for this service.
With the vote, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and other telecom carriers are now able to implement these robocall-blocking features as a default unless a customer opts out.
Such call-blocking features have already been available but they required customers to proactively request it or download it as an app. Customers not aware the features existed were consequently left out.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who published an op-ed Thursday ahead of the vote, said he expects phone companies to move quickly to implement these features.
“Among other things, default call-blocking will reduce the costs of handling the robocalls that flood their networks and save them grief by limiting customer complaints,” he reasoned.
The FCC receives more than 200,000 complaints about robocalls each year, making up around 60 percent of all the complaints it receives, according to its website.
This week’s ruling also made it so phone providers can offer customers the ability to limit which calls they can receive. This “white list” of approved callers can be based on their contact list and updated automatically as customers add and remove contacts from their device. An exception would be a call coming from emergency services, the FCC said.
“One possible use of this would be in support of elderly relatives, who are too often targets of robocall scams these day,” Pai said in a video explaining the ruling. “If you set up a list of phone numbers for your grandfather or grandmother, they could know that whatever calls they do get are coming from trusted people, loved ones, their doctor, their pharmacy, and the like.”
Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile applauded the FCC’s decision in separate statements on Thursday.
Verizon already offers a call blocking app called Call Filter. One version is free and another costs a monthly fee.
T-Mobile also offers a free, no-app-required feature called Scam Block that’s available through users’ T-Mobile account, by dialing #662# from their T-Mobile phone, or through T-Mobile’s free Name ID app.
This Scam Block feature has alerted T-Mobile customers to an average of 225 million “Scam Likely” calls per week this year, the company said.
AT&T similarly offers a feature called AT&T Call Protect that is available for download as an app or through users’ AT&T account.
Sprint offers customers the ability to block specific calls through its My Sprint app. For a monthly service fee, users can screen calls from unknown numbers through its Premium Caller ID app.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the FCC’s decision on Thursday “long overdue” but said she’s “disappointed” that it doesn’t stop carriers from dangling robocall features for an extra price.
“There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers for this blocking technology to stop robocalls,” she said in a statement.
“I’m a consumer, too. I receive robocalls at home, in my office, on my landline, on my mobile. I’ve even received multiple robocalls sitting here on this dais. I want it to stop. But I do not believe I should have to pay for that privilege,” she continued. “I am disappointed that for all our efforts to support new blocking technology, we couldn’t muster up the courage to do what consumers want most — stop robocalls and do it for free.”