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FCC to propose rules allowing automatic robocall blocking

Posted at 10:39 AM, May 15, 2019

The Federal Communications Commission unveiled a proposal Wednesday to limit the scourge of unwanted robocalls, a measure that would give phone companies wide latitude to block those calls by default.

The plan, if approved, could go into effect later this year and allow carriers to apply robocall-blocking technologies to customer accounts automatically.

Americans received more than 26 billion robocalls last year — a 46% increase over the year before, according to a study by the Seattle-based spam monitoring service Hiya.

Companies have been working on a variety of techniques to thwart spam callers, but many have been reluctant to release them widely over fears that the technology could be considered illegal by regulators, said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who added his proposal aims to put those fears to rest.

"Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls," Pai said in a statement. "By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them."

Carriers have also been developing standards aimed at verifying the owner of a particular phone number, in order to cut down on robocalls in which scammers hide behind legitimate phone numbers. The FCC proposal would ask for public input on how those standards should work.

Last month, T-Mobile and Comcast's Xfinity said they would start verifying calls between their networks, using a tool that will alert customers if an incoming call wasn't placed by an actual human.

Most major telecom companies have also had a hand in developing and testing anti-robocall technology called STIR/SHAKEN. The technology's goal is to tamp down on bad actors who use a technique called "spoofing," which allows them to skirt Caller ID and make it look like they're calling from another number — even phone numbers that are identical or look similar to your own.

Spoofing has made it difficult for authorities to sort out which robocalls are illegal and which robocalls are spoofed for a legitimate reason, in cases like a call from a pharmacist or local school district.