AT&T Says It Hates Robocalls Too; Still Not Giving Most Customers A Way To Block Them

Image courtesy of Mike Mozart

AT&T CEO Randall “Dandy Randy” Stephenson has inaccurately claimed that his company can’t proactively block robocalls because it first needs permission from the FCC, and AT&T employees have more than a dozen different — sometimes bizarre — explanations for why the telecom giant has done nothing to rein in these unwanted, pre-recorded and auto-dialed calls. Now AT&T is claiming it is “working hard” to solve the problem, but that hard work does not involve providing a method for most customers to actually block these unwanted calls.

On the plus side Bob Quinn, AT&T’s Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory, admits in his new blog post that — contrary to what Darth Randy has said — “The FCC clarified that it’s acceptable for phone companies to create automated tools that block robocalls, as long as customers consent and are aware that they might also miss some legitimate automated calls, such as public safety alerts.”

Great — so where’s the tool, Bob?

Quinn says that AT&T does block “millions of illegal calls” each day by matching the phone number of the caller to lists of known robocallers, “But despite those efforts, we haven’t been able to single-handedly develop a solution that blocks all illegal calls.”

The good news is that U-Verse landline phone customers can now turn on Nomorobo, the free call-blocking service that has already been made available on Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS lines. However, Nomorobo does not currently work on traditional landline service, and a recently released wireless version of the app costs $5/month.

The problem, claims Quinn, is bigger than just AT&T.

Caller-ID authentication services can be improved so that you can be more certain that the number showing up on your phone is actually the number of the person calling you.

“Secure Caller ID makes it so no matter where an IP call comes from, you’ll know who is really calling. You can choose to block or reject the call on your device,” explains Quinn, who then cautions, “This will only work if all telecom companies are on board,” shifting the blame to the entire industry.

Robocalls would also wane, claims Quinn, if AT&T were just allowed to get rid of those traditional landlines and replace them with new IP-based networks.

“Caller ID authentication works best with IP-based networks and services,” writes the VP. “And a traditional voice network limits automated technological fixes.”

However, there are still a number of safety, interconnection, and technical concerns about replacing old copper-line networks with internet-based phone service.

The closest that Quinn comes to hinting at something like providing a call-blocking tool is when he writes that AT&T will “Work with smartphone and operating system companies to provide call controls to reject unwanted robocalls when customers receive them — just like spam email.”

However, he later seems to clarify that this blocking tech is only “for our customers on IP-based calling services,” which would appear to leave the more than 100 million AT&T wireless customers still dealing with calls from “Cindy at card services.”

Quinn promises that will eventually be updated to include a tool for reporting robocalls, but does not provide any sort of timeframe for when this will happen.

Our colleagues at Consumers Union, whose End Robocalls campaign has been pushing AT&T, Verizon and others to offer useful, free tools to end these nuisance — often illegal — calls, were less than impressed by Quinn’s blog post.

“Consumers want solutions not more excuses from AT&T,” says Tim Marvin, the campaign director for End Robocalls. “It’s clear that AT&T’s efforts are falling far short of what their customers need to stop being harassed by unwanted robocalls. While no single call-blocking tool will be 100% effective, other companies have implemented technologies that provide much better protection than what AT&T currently offers.”

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