FTC: Totally Fine By Us If Phone Companies Block Robocalling Numbers

Robocalls suck. Everyone hates them. And yet despite decades of trying to deal with autodialers and phone spam, they’re still a big problem. The FCC wants to know if phone companies can block them getting to you. Phone companies say too bad, so sad, the rules mean we can’t block them… but the FTC now disagrees.

This all began back in late November. 39 states’ attorneys general basically said to the FCC: telemarketing and robocall telemarketing are giant pains in the butt for our citizens and everyone hates them. There are consumer-side workarounds, but your phone company can’t block a phone spammer from making outgoing calls to you. So why don’t phone companies just block the numbers to start with?

The FCC then, as it does, created a notice asking for comment as they considered the question. Specifically, the areas in which the FCC has sought input are:

  • What legal or regulatory prohibitions, if any, prevent carriers from implementing call-blocking technology?
  • Does the answer change if the customers have to opt-in (perhaps even pay a fee) to use call blocking tech?
  • If a customer asks, can a carrier legally block certain types of calls if tech identifies them as being telemarketing?

Phone companies, which have been busily not blocking any of these numbers ever, insist that it is the current law that stops them. AT&T (PDF), Verizon (PDF) and the CTIA (PDF) have all filed comments to the effect that the industry is already totally on it, but that existing tools are sufficient. Further, the FCC should stay away from this, since because phones are regulated as common carriers, all carriers have an obligation to move all phone traffic, period, with no exceptions.

But now the FTC has jumped in with a comment (PDF) .

The FTC comment does not actually call robocalls a plague upon humanity, but it does stress that they are in many cases illegal, and now being placed through internet services from foreign nations where the FTC can’t do much about it. Call-blocking technology is a-ok by them, since it would “make a significant dent in the problem of unwanted telephone calls,” even if, “to date [common] carriers have resisted offering call-blocking services to their large customer bases.”

The FTC receives over 261,000 complaints per month, on average, about unwanted calls. The complaints, and the volume of them, indicate both a desire and a need for a new strategy — like call-blocking tech.

If customers request and opt-in to a call blocking service, the FTC says, that’s kosher by them and they hope it will be at the FCC too. “An affirmative statement from the FCC that common carriers can offer call-blocking services to their consumers without violating their common carriage obligations would be in the best interest of American consumers,” the FTC concludes.