The nation’s top phone companies should provide their customers with free ways to block unwanted robocalls, the Federal Communications Commission said in letters sent to them on Thursday. The companies have 30 days to respond with plans for allowing consumers to block the calls.
As most consumers know, the number of robocalls has exploded in recent years. They’re the top consumer complaint reported to the FCC.
“Consumers are tired of being hounded by robocalls that interrupt their privacy and are often used by crooks to commit fraud,” said Tim Marvin, head of Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign. “The phone companies need to start listening to their customers who are desperate for relief. The time for action is long overdue.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent letters to AT&T, Bandwidth.com, CenturyLink, Frontier Communications, Level 3 Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Verizon.
For years, phone companies argued that they were prevented from blocking robocalls because they were legally obligated to make sure all calls reached the intended recipient. However, last year, the FCC told the phone companies that they have the legal authority to block unwanted calls.
In his letters to the phone companies, Wheeler said, “Nothing in the commission’s rules and orders prevents [phone companies] from offering customers robocall blocking technology. I strongly urge you to offer your customers robust call blocking at no cost.”
In addition to being a nuisance, robocalls can cost consumers money when they’re used to commit fraud. Telephone scammers use robocalls to rip off seniors and other vulnerable consumers, resulting in about $350 million in financial losses annually.
Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 3.5 million complaints from consumers about unwanted calls. Almost half of these calls occurred after the consumer requested that the caller stop contacting them. Complaints about violations of the Do Not Call registry doubled between 2010 and 2015 due to robocalls.
Consumers Union issued a report in 2015 that identified existing technologies that phone companies could use to block unwanted robocalls from reaching their customers.