It’s no secret that the Federal Communications Commission is fed up with robocalls—them, and everyone else with a phone. The latest salvo in the war on robocalls? Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai put forth a proposal that would let carriers block unwanted robocalls by default.
While analytics and consumer white lists are currently used by third-party robocall blocking apps, carriers have been slow to adopt or develop similar tools. According to the FCC, one reason for the delay is it’s currently unclear if such tools are legal. By potentially giving the go-ahead, Pai hopes carriers will block robocalls by default—and for free.
“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” Pai said in a statement. “By making it clear that suck call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them.”
In the proposal, Pai suggests carriers give consumers the option to block calls from numbers outside their contact list. Pai’s also demanding carriers adopt caller ID authentication standards to combat spoofing. Put simply, the so-called SHAKEN/STIR standards would mark which calls are legitimate as they pass through a carrier’s network.
Pai’s proposal is set to be discussed on June 6 during the Open Commission Meeting. In the meantime, Pai and four other FCC commissioners are testifying today before Congress about the robocall hell we live in (and lots of other FCC business). And truly, it is hell when you consider a recent report found robocalls increased by 46 percent in 2018 to 26.3 billion in the U.S. alone.
That’s not to say that carriers have been totally useless. AT&T and Comcast recently inked a partnership to authenticate calls between the two carriers based on the SHAKEN/STIR protocol—for free. T-Mobile has also started rolling out a limited version of it earlier this year on its own network. In March, Verizon also made its Call Filter app free to all customers.
In November, Congress also introduced a bipartisan bill that would slap fines up to $10,000 on robocallers for every illegal call they place. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act also enables the FCC to take action three years after an illegal robocall is made.
Pai’s proposal is an encouraging step, but it still won’t eradicate the robocall scourge overnight. That, and it’s important to keep a close eye on the fine print. Back in December, the FCC gave carriers more control over SMS and MMS text messages in a bid to curtail spam texts. This proposal is similar, but for phone calls. The intentions are good, but it could also give carriers too much power to block which calls get through and which don’t—or simply shut the whole thing into a corporate black box with little transparency. Another thing to keep in mind is that while Pai urged carriers to keep robocalling tools free, nowhere does it say that would be required. Carriers could very well decide to charge consumers a fee—as Verizon initially did for its Call Filter app—to get the benefits.
In the meantime, while we all wait for carriers to get their act together, try to resist the urge to chuck your expensive smartphone into the sea.