US Carriers Can Now Block Unwanted Robocalls Automatically

In a move that will deliver relief to millions of Americans (and even carrier CEOs), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted yesterday to allow US carriers to block unwanted robocalls automatically.

Carriers have always had robocall-blocking technology but haven't used it for the benefit of every American customer. But now, with FCC approval, carriers can turn on robocall-blocking technology by default.

This robocall-blocking technology scans for unwanted calls in the same way that email providers scan for spam messages (messages that are designed for scam and hack attacks rather than honest communication).

US Carriers will turn on robocall-blocking technologies by default if the FCC demands they do so, but they'll still be required to allow American customers the opportunity to opt out of robocall-blocking if customers want.

The problem now staring Americans in the face is whether or not they'll have to pay for robocall-blocking technologies on their phone lines. It is an American right to have domestic tranquillity (per the Preamble to the US Constitution), and part of that involves eliminating the constant harassment of automated calls designed to do nothing more than unsettle the consumer conscience.

In this approach, then, robocall-blocking technology should be a given communications resource rather than a service where customers must pay to have the peace of mind they need.

Some FCC members such as Geoffrey Starks find it disturbing if carriers mandate customers pay for unwanted robocall blocking, but such a move by carriers is not unsubstantiated.

As of 2019, US carriers and AT&T offer some free services for robocall-blocking, but Sprint's Premium Caller ID service charges $2.99 per line for the privilege. T-Mobile offers its Scam Block service free of charge to block robocalls.

Even with home phone services, call-blocking technology is a privilege phone users must pay for, at least for now.

There is a workaround to paying for calls on home phones, however: if your home phone service comes with call-blocking technology pre-installed, you may not need to pay for the privilege.

This doesn't apply to all phone models that come with call-blocking technology, but some, such as some VTech home phones, will let you block robocalls free of charge.

Carriers banded together with the FCC back in 2016 to form a "Robocall Strike Force" against unwanted robocalls. Back in February of this year, FCC chairman Ajit Pai called for carriers to adopt call authentication for every phone call.

One month later, Verizon Wireless unveiled its Call Filter service in both free and paid versions that targets robocalls (paying customers getting the "icing" of the service, of course, with the "cake" remaining for free subscribers).

In April, T-Mobile and Comcast partnered together to offer cross-network robocall-blocking through T-Mobile's Caller Verified service.

An anti-robocalling bill, introduced by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and called the TRACED Act, was approved by the US Senate in May. The TRACED Act allows the FCC to add to robocaller fines and increase the statute of limitations for bringing cases to court.

Additionally, TRACED allows the FCC to create a task force that would move carriers to press forward with call authentication systems. The bill is now present in the House of Representatives.

About 26.3 billion robocalls were placed to Americans in 2018, making robocall-blocking technology a right, not a privilege. The FCC says that half (though some say as much as eighty percent) of all calls could be robocalls in the future unless something is done to curb the problem.

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About the Author

Deidre Richardson

Staff News Writer
Deidre Richardson is a tech lover whose insatiable desire for all things tech has kept her in tech journalism some eight years now. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned BA degrees in both History and Music. Since graduating from Carolina in 2006, Richardson obtained a Master of Divinity degree and spent four years in postgraduate seminary studies. She's written five books since 2017 and all of them are available at Amazon. You can connect with Deidre Richardson on Facebook.