FCC Cracks Down On Robocalls

By Elaine S. Povich | Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trust.

The Federal Communications Commission has given permission for phone companies to aggressively go after the scourge of the telephone industry: unwanted robocalls.

The FCC ruled that voice service providers may, as the default, block unwanted calls before they ever reach a device, as long as their customers are informed and can opt out of the automatic blocking. Phone companies now offer call-blocking software, but customers must request it.

With blocking as the default option, the agency expects that it will protect more consumers from “unwanted robocalls and making it more cost-effective to implement call blocking program,” the agency said in a press release.

In addition, the agency clarified that providers may offer customers the choice to provide their contact lists and to block any call that does not appear on the list. “This option would allow consumers to decide directly whose calls they are willing to receive,” the agency said.

Robocalls have become the bane of consumers’ existence, and earlier efforts to curtail them have been stymied by technology. Because they are cheap and easy to make, robocalls give scammers an inroad into potential consumers.

But with more consumers buying their own software and making other blocking efforts, robocalls dipped 9% in May, down from the all-time high in March, according to YouMail, a software company that provides blocking for mobile phones.

YouMail, which closely tracks robocalls, said Americans got 4.74 billion of them in May, and despite the decrease, the United States had received nearly 25 billion robocalls so far this year.

The company said 43% of the calls were scams. Other kinds of robocalls include reminders about prescription refills, appointments, bill collectors and emergency calls.

“I hate robocalls as much as you do,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai wrote in USA Today this week. “I get them myself on my mobile phone, I hear about them from my family and friends, and I know that consumers want to reclaim their sanity.”

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Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy. Since its founding in 1998, Stateline has maintained a commitment to the highest standards of nonpartisanship, objectivity, and integrity. Its team of veteran journalists combines original reporting with a roundup of the latest news from sources around the country.