FCC votes to allow cell phone providers to auto-block robocalls

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member

Last month, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai proposed allowing cellular carriers to block robocalls by default. On Thursday the commission voted to approve the proposal.

Under the provision, providers will be allowed to “aggressively” block robocalls before the calls reach the subscriber’s phone. Carriers must be reasonably sure that the originating calls are spam. In other words, they do not want to see legitimate automated calls from say your kid’s school getting flushed down the toilet.

The commission also says that providers must allow customers to opt out of blocking if they wish. Currently, many carriers provide opt-in blocking. AT&T, for example, offers a basic spam blocking service for free with a premium version for $4 per month.

The FCC’s declaratory ruling reverses that and allows blocking to be on by default. This will supposedly allow carriers to protect more customer and make it easier to implement blocking mechanisms such as SHAKEN/STIR to effectively bring down implementation costs. The commission has also proposed that carriers have the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication framework implemented by the end of the year.

"There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers for this blocking technology to stop robocalls."

While the commissioners approved the proposal unanimously, Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel partially dissented the motion citing that the ruling did not prevent carriers from charging for blocking unwanted calls.

“I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers. Full stop,” Rosenworcel said in a separately issued statement. “There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers for this blocking technology to stop robocalls.”

In her opinion, customers are already paying the price in scams and wasted time responding to fraudulent calls.

“I am disappointed that for all our efforts to support new blocking technology, we couldn’t muster up the courage to do what consumers want most—stop robocalls and do it for free,” Rosenworcel said in closing. “On this aspect of today’s decision, I dissent.”

The move comes on the heels of the Senate passing stricter law enforcement regulations against scam callers last month.

Image credit: Alan Budman / Shutterstock.com

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ShagnWagn

TS Guru
Isn't it the phone companies that are rolling in cash from charging robocallers, then making more wads of cash from us for the blocking service? That would be like an antivirus company making viruses (who says they haven't been?).
 

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member
Isn't it the phone companies that are rolling in cash from charging robocallers, then making more wads of cash from us for the blocking service? That would be like an antivirus company making viruses (who says they haven't been?).
What I can say as of now (who knows how it will change in the future) is that AT&T does not charge to block robocalls. As I mention in the article they have a free basic and a $4 premium service, but the premium is just for a few extra unnecessary features. The basic service still blocks calls in the same way as the premium service. I would not expect this to change, but we'll see.
 

HyperPete

TS Enthusiast
What I can say as of now (who knows how it will change in the future) is that AT&T does not charge to block robocalls. As I mention in the article they have a free basic and a $4 premium service, but the premium is just for a few extra unnecessary features. The basic service still blocks calls in the same way as the premium service. I would not expect this to change, but we'll see.
AT&T *ONLY* blocks robocalls if you bought the "AT&T version" of your phone. I purchased my unlocked/generic Samsung S9+ and they prevent their blocking app from running on my phone. They also locked it, and I had to apply to have it unlocked again. CRIMINALS!
 

psycros

TS Evangelist
What I can say as of now (who knows how it will change in the future) is that AT&T does not charge to block robocalls. As I mention in the article they have a free basic and a $4 premium service, but the premium is just for a few extra unnecessary features. The basic service still blocks calls in the same way as the premium service. I would not expect this to change, but we'll see.
AT&T *ONLY* blocks robocalls if you bought the "AT&T version" of your phone. I purchased my unlocked/generic Samsung S9+ and they prevent their blocking app from running on my phone. They also locked it, and I had to apply to have it unlocked again. CRIMINALS!
AT&T are literal cancer. When I finally dumped them for another carrier they tried double charging me for my last billing cycle bill under contract. Well, this was hardly their first attempt to defraud me - I went back to paper copies of my bills a couple years ago because they delete the online evidence. If they push the issue I'll find a sleazy business lawyer and bring the pain.
 

Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member
Yeah don't get me wrong. I'm not in anyway defending AT&T. My last phone upgrade was a complete and utter nightmare which took me three months to iron out and not to my complete satisfaction. I hold no loyalties there. I'm only speaking of its call blocking.

I do not pay for blocking and it works pretty good. I went from anywhere between 5 to 12 or more spam calls per day to only a few that get through per month if that (it seems to be getting progressively better).

As to whether blocking is only for phone purchased from AT&T -- I'll have to take @HyperPete 's word on that. I've always purchased my phones through AT&T since they stopped the subsidies for Apple Store purchases because I can get a better deal (last purchase was an iPhone X Max regular price + an iPhone XR free.

Will be interesting to see how the whole thing plays out especially with Congress getting involved now.
 
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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
Looks like just another scam to soak the consumer out of their hard earned dollars. When you consider just how much profit the Telco's have made on the scammers, they should now have to make this a no cost option for the consumer ........ hey! If I'm going to dream, I'm gonna dream big!
 

wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
Looks like just another scam to soak the consumer out of their hard earned dollars. When you consider just how much profit the Telco's have made on the scammers, they should now have to make this a no cost option for the consumer ........ hey! If I'm going to dream, I'm gonna dream big!
As I see it, that's the stick here.

@Cal Jeffrey Do you know if there is anything in the FCC ruling that prevents providers from charging for this? I really cannot imagine Pai having the foresight or true concern to explicitly state this in the ruling.

IMO, if the FCC does not insist that the providers implement this for everyone for free, it is meaningless.

EDIT: Answered my own question from the article:
“I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers. Full stop,” Rosenworcel said in a separately issued statement. “There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers for this blocking technology to stop robocalls.”
More Ajit Pai BS intended to make people think he is actually doing something meaningful.
 
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Dimitrios

TS Guru
I bought a prepaid phone 2 years ago SAMSUNG Galaxy something for $80 at Walmart original price was like $200, 5 inch screen quad core and a large SD card. I switched from T-mobile to Walmart phone service. I pay like $30 a month and I get maybe 1 robo call every 6 months or year. Good service, under the radar, barely any Robo calls and I'm 100% happy with it.

It blows my mind how people bash prepaid people like me even though it does 99% of what their phones do for a fraction of the price. Sorry I'm cheap and I just can't allow cell phone makers and service providers rape me.
 

ShagnWagn

TS Guru
I bought a prepaid phone 2 years ago SAMSUNG Galaxy something for $80 at Walmart original price was like $200, 5 inch screen quad core and a large SD card. I switched from T-mobile to Walmart phone service. I pay like $30 a month and I get maybe 1 robo call every 6 months or year. Good service, under the radar, barely any Robo calls and I'm 100% happy with it.

It blows my mind how people bash prepaid people like me even though it does 99% of what their phones do for a fraction of the price. Sorry I'm cheap and I just can't allow cell phone makers and service providers rape me.
It is not the phone that robocallers call. It's the phone number... It doesn't matter what phone you have. If the number is not "out in the wild", then you will rarely get a rogue call.

My old LAN line that I had for 20 years got robocallers like twice a day. My personal cell number (~5 years) is mostly family/friends and a few rare "needed" company phone calls. I get a robocall about every 2-3 days. I am pretty sure it is when I unfortunately gave it to a dealership. They are scum like that, and not the first time I've heard of it. I have a strictly company phone number that only people at work have. I've had like 1 rogue call in 4 years. I also have a google phone I use (a bit over a year) to give and call companies for official use or purchases. I get a rogue call maybe 1 rogue call. Rogue calls can just be a misdial from someone.
 

Dimitrios

TS Guru
It is not the phone that robocallers call. It's the phone number... It doesn't matter what phone you have. If the number is not "out in the wild", then you will rarely get a rogue call.

My old LAN line that I had for 20 years got robocallers like twice a day. My personal cell number (~5 years) is mostly family/friends and a few rare "needed" company phone calls. I get a robocall about every 2-3 days. I am pretty sure it is when I unfortunately gave it to a dealership. They are scum like that, and not the first time I've heard of it. I have a strictly company phone number that only people at work have. I've had like 1 rogue call in 4 years. I also have a google phone I use (a bit over a year) to give and call companies for official use or purchases. I get a rogue call maybe 1 rogue call. Rogue calls can just be a misdial from someone.
That's what I said. Prepaid numbers are more under the radar because the number isn't registered to my name and location & billing info. I was messing with certain apps and search engines and it's hard to find a link of my name matched with my cell number and location combined.
 

Vrmithrax

TechSpot Paladin
Questionable motives and potentials for abuse aside, the one bright piece I see in this proposal is caller ID authentication. It is far too easy for robocallers to spoof any number they like, and that spoofing also serves to help them bypass enforcement when violating the "do not call" registry.

If every call is authenticated, it will make it easier to report a phone number for abuse, and know that it's the actual number of the offender, not some random digits. At least, until someone figures out how to hack the authentication (which you know will happen).
 
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Cal Jeffrey

TS Evangelist
Staff member
Looks like just another scam to soak the consumer out of their hard earned dollars. When you consider just how much profit the Telco's have made on the scammers, they should now have to make this a no cost option for the consumer ........ hey! If I'm going to dream, I'm gonna dream big!
As I see it, that's the stick here.

@Cal Jeffrey Do you know if there is anything in the FCC ruling that prevents providers from charging for this? I really cannot imagine Pai having the foresight or true concern to explicitly state this in the ruling.

IMO, if the FCC does not insist that the providers implement this for everyone for free, it is meaningless.

EDIT: Answered my own question from the article:
“I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers. Full stop,” Rosenworcel said in a separately issued statement. “There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers for this blocking technology to stop robocalls.”
More Ajit Pai BS intended to make people think he is actually doing something meaningful.
Right. According to Rosenworcel there is nothing to stop carriers from charging. However, as I've previously mentioned, they don't currently charge for blocking (at least with AT&T I don't have personal experience with other carriers). This proposal doesn't change anything in regards to charging consumers for blocking. So Rosenworcel is bringing up a problem that does not currently exist.

Also, to be fair, Pai said in his original proposal, "If this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default – for free – to their current and future customers."

I acknowledge that there is a difference between "strongly encouraging" and mandating. I also understand a lot of people do not like him, I don't particularly care for him either, but attacking him on this non-problem is not really fair. Whether you like him or not and whether you believe him or not is your own bias, but looking at what he has said and done on the matter objectively, there is no evidence he is trying screw over consumers or that he's only putting on a show. They voted unanimously on the proposal meaning every single commissioner was for the move despite what they felt was missing.

For now, Rosenworcel is crying "wolf" when there is no wolf there. The FCC mostly handles complaints. Nobody is complaining that their carrier is charging them for call blocking. They are, however, complaining about the increasing number of robocalls. One problem at a time.
 
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wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
Right. According to Rosenworcel there is nothing to stop carriers from charging. However, as I've previously mentioned, they don't currently charge for blocking (at least with AT&T I don't have personal experience with other carriers). This proposal doesn't change anything in regards to charging consumers for blocking. So Rosenworcel is bringing up a problem that does not currently exist.

Also, to be fair, Pai said in his original proposal, "If this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default – for free – to their current and future customers."

I acknowledge that there is a difference between "strongly encouraging" and mandating. I also understand a lot of people do not like him, I don't particularly care for him either, but attacking him on this non-problem is not really fair. Whether you like him or not and whether you believe him or not is your own bias, but looking at what he has said and done on the matter objectively, there is no evidence he is trying screw over consumers or that he's only putting on a show. They voted unanimously on the proposal meaning every single commissioner was for the move despite what they felt was missing.

For now, Rosenworcel is crying "wolf" when there is no wolf there. The FCC mostly handles complaints. Nobody is complaining that their carrier is charging them for call blocking. They are, however, complaining about the increasing number of robocalls. One problem at a time.
While I essentially agree, we will have to see how this plays out over time. It will be interesting.
EDIT: Unity in the FCC - that is a wonder in and of itself. ;)
That's what I said. Prepaid numbers are more under the radar because the number isn't registered to my name and location & billing info. I was messing with certain apps and search engines and it's hard to find a link of my name matched with my cell number and location combined.
That's my experience as well. I have a prepaid, well, pay-as-you-go, number too. I do not leave it on that much, however, I have had this same number for more than 7-years and over that time period, I would be surprised if I have gotten 10 calls that could be categorized as spam or robo calls.

For a year or two after I got the number, I received calls that were, I assumed, for someone who had the number before I did; however, they eventually stopped. In this context, I don't think those count.
 
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ShagnWagn

TS Guru
That's what I said. Prepaid numbers are more under the radar because the number isn't registered to my name and location & billing info. I was messing with certain apps and search engines and it's hard to find a link of my name matched with my cell number and location combined.
You said "phone" and not number. So, you did not use your old number - you got a brand new one. That is more clear now. I figured you may have had a point other than "I get less robocalls on a new unused number".

The cell phone I do not register with doesn't get robocalls either, and it's registered in my name. It is not a prepaid number, so I don't see how prepaid gets some extra benefit. My personal experiences anyway. :)
 

Dimitrios

TS Guru
You said "phone" and not number. So, you did not use your old number - you got a brand new one. That is more clear now. I figured you may have had a point other than "I get less robocalls on a new unused number".

The cell phone I do not register with doesn't get robocalls either, and it's registered in my name. It is not a prepaid number, so I don't see how prepaid gets some extra benefit. My personal experiences anyway. :)
Dude WTF are you talking about? I transferred the same number which I had for like 12-15 years. All prepaid. Started with Verizon prepaid, T-mobile & now Walmart which piggy backs on another tower. I went through like 3-4 prepaid companies.

Let it go man why are you fighting tooth & nail with me?
 

ShagnWagn

TS Guru
Dude WTF are you talking about? I transferred the same number which I had for like 12-15 years. All prepaid. Started with Verizon prepaid, T-mobile & now Walmart which piggy backs on another tower. I went through like 3-4 prepaid companies.

Let it go man why are you fighting tooth & nail with me?
Finally, you mention you are using the same number between them. Not a single time did you mention that. Thank you.

Lol, why do you think I am fighting with you? I am simply trying to understand you. Why are you fighting tooth & nail with me? Let it go. I won't say "dude" or "man" since I am not going to assume your gender.