FCC chief pushes phone companies to offer free robocall blocking

FCC chief pushes phone companies to offer free robocall blocking
© Greg Nash

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Friday told phone companies that they should start providing free technology for their customers to block robocalls and spam texts.

“I strongly urge you to offer your customers robust call blocking at no cost,” Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in letters to companies providing both wireless and wired phone service, urging them to move immediately “to ensure consumers have the tools necessary to block these unwanted calls.”

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Last year, the commission told wireless carriers that they could provide robocall-blocking technology said without running afoul of any rules. Wheeler’s letters on Friday puts pressure on the industry to take action on the issue. The companies have 30 days to respond.

“Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive,” he said in a blog post.

Letters went out to nine companies, including both well-known providers like AT&T and Verizon and “gateway providers” that help connect calls. In some of the letters, Wheeler placed blame for the continued persistence of robocalls.

“Due in large part to industry inaction, unwanted robocalls continue to plague consumers who use the telephone network,” he said.

Tom Power, general counsel to wireless trade association CTIA, said in a statement that unwanted "calls and texts are a consumer issue the wireless industry works hard to address and we look forward to working with the FCC to help address this challenge together."

It’s the most recent example of policymakers putting pressure on the industry to do more to combat robocalls. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneLighthizer starts GOP charm offensive on Trump trade deal GOP senators worry Trump made 'problematic' concessions in trade deal On The Money: White House, Dems edge closer to trade deal | GOP worries about Trump concessions | DOJ argues Congress can't sue Trump on emoluments | Former Fed chief Volcker dies MORE (R-S.D.) and Democratic Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyWarren proposes 'Blue New Deal' to protect oceans There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Trump administration drops plan to face scan all travelers leaving or entering US MORE (Mass.) recently wrote to CTIA to ask for comments on creating a database of reassigned numbers that could be used to make sure that robocalls weren’t going to the wrong people.

Robocalls are a major source of consumer frustration, according to the FCC. Wheeler said on Friday that they were the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the agency.

“Whenever and wherever Congress and the courts give us the authority, the Commission will push hard for strong, pro-consumer limits to robocalls and other unwanted calls,” Wheeler said.