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FCC Pushes Carriers To Offer Robocall Blockers To Consumers: Will They Finally Act?

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In an open letter addressed to the CEOs of major telecommunications companies, Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, pressed the carriers to take immediate action in making technology to block so-called robocalls available for free to consumers.

The FCC has previously ruled that telecommunications providers have the ability to offer blocking services to their customers against robocalls, which are automated pre-recorded telephone calls that are often used by scam artists and telemarketers.

However, companies have incorrectly insisted that they do not possess the authority to implement such a system. In an effort to clarify the matter once and for all, Wheeler sent out the letters to the telecommunications providers, which include AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, CenturyLink and Frontier.

"I strongly urge you to offer your customers robust call blocking at no cost," wrote Wheeler in the letters, reiterating that there is nothing in the rules of the FCC and its orders that prevents carriers from providing robocall blocking services to their customers.

The letters, while not requiring the companies to offer blocking and filtering services against robocalls, strongly encourage them to provide these services to their customers at no extra charge.

While robocalling has virtually disappeared amid various regulations prohibiting the practice, complaints against it continue to be received by the FCC in hundreds of thousands every year, with most of the automated calls now being illegally placed by scammers.

Despite the threat, many telecommunications companies have not been proactive in developing robocall blocking technology, citing technical issues and the risk that any form of blocking system could inadvertently prevent legitimate phone calls from being received.

Wheeler also called out the stance of the telecommunications industry to prevent the implementation of blockers until the new standards for caller ID authentication are established, stating that this is not considered a valid excuse in the delays of the deployment of robocall blockers.

In addition to the robocalling issue, Wheeler added that the industry should establish a "Do Not Originate" list that will allow entities such as government agencies, healthcare providers and banks to register the phone numbers that they use, which would allow the companies to block calls coming from outside the country. Many scammers based overseas have Americans as their targets.

The question that remains, however, is if the companies will finally begin the development and implementation of robocalling systems.

In other recent news, the FCC has voted to implement high-speed G wireless networks, as well as to ease the transition from standard landline telephone systems.

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