AT&T, Verizon Responses To Campaign To End Robocalls Unsurprisingly Empty And Noncommittal

If there’s one thing consumers can agree on… well, it’s probably that they don’t like Comcast. But if there are two things that consumers can agree on, it’s that and also that robocalls suck. The tech to block robocalls is out there, but phone companies don’t use it. And their excuses for not doing so aren’t getting any better.

Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consumerist’s parent company, Consumer Reports) launched a campaign to end robocalls back in February. As part of that campaign, CU asked consumers to sign a petition calling on AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to allow customers to opt-in to using existing, free technologies (like call whitelisting) to block robocalls.

CU also sent letters to the phone companies, asking them to take action. Verizon (PDF) and AT&T (PDF) responded to those letters basically exactly as you’d expect: loads of words about how great they are and how seriously they take this problem, without any actual promises to do anything about it.

“This is an area where we share a common interest,” Verizon responded. “Robocalls burden our customers and potentially reduce the value of the service we provide.”

But that was the end of the agreement. “Although Verizon works hard to identify and shut down illegal robocalls … currently there is no way for a communications provider to ensure that a network-based blocking solution will not accidentally block a legitimate robocall, such as a school closing or public safety announcement.”

Instead, Verizon says, Congress should take action, and consumers should use products (like Nomorobo) currently on the market on their own.

AT&T’s response is similar to Verizons. Addressing robocalls “is a business priority for AT&T,” an executive for the company asserts, and AT&T is working with “government and industry” to address the problem. But, they conclude, “no easy or comprehensive solution exists to identify and eliminate the illegal or unwanted telemarketing or robocalls from the billions of calls that traverse carrier networks.” And perhaps, they add, the IP transition will let them do something useful about it.

CU, however, is not particularly interested in these excuses. To both Verizon and AT&T, they reply, “Technology is available to stop robocalls, but [AT&T and Verizon have] been reluctant to offer it to all its customers.” CU explains that consumers have found Nomorobo to be effective, and adds, “Given its popularity, we question why your engineers cannot create software that would provide a similar, or even more effective, service to all of your subscribers.”

“Americans are fed up with being harassed day in and day out by robocalls and are demanding relief,” said Consumers Union grassroots organizer Timothy Marvin. “It’s time for phone companies to step up and give their customers the right to opt-in to free call-blocking services.”

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