The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted in favor of the protection of consumers against unwanted spam text messages and robocalls on both landlines and mobile phones.
The FCC approved new rules that will allow carriers to provide better call-blocking services to subscribers without violating rules on connecting calls. The agency also detailed a few exceptions to the new order, such as pharmacies calling customers for medication refills or calls from financial institutions alerting patrons of possible fraud on their bank accounts. However, debt collection or marketing calls from these companies are not included in the very narrow exclusions.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the complaints about automated calls for 2014 reached more than 215,000 and the agency received complaints over these more than any other concerns. With this new move, consumers could now request their carriers to block automated text messages and robocalls.
The consumers also have now a chance to opt out of a previously consented marketer's calls. In addition, if the phone number has been reassigned to a new user, companies only get one opportunity to discontinue telephoning the new customer before facing fines.
"This is critical because we have heard from consumers that getting stuck with a reassigned number can lead to horrible consequences," Wheeler added.
The 1991 consumer protection law allows banning of telemarketers from performing cold calls to customers and persistent companies somehow discovered a loophole by utilizing pre-recorded calls, sending text messages or through automated dialing machines. Wheeler stated that with this order, the rules of the agency are keeping up to date with the latest technology such as automated equipment and text messaging.
Meanwhile, consumer advocacy groups such as the Consumers Union commended the FCC's efforts to block robocalls and spam messages.
"Americans have had enough with robocalls that ring off the hook all day long, and often target them with the latest scams. Today's FCC vote means the phone companies should stop stalling and start providing their customers with free tools to block these calls," said Tim Marvin, campaign manager of End Robocalls for the Consumers Union.
However, the next issue is whether carriers will block robocalls the way consumers prefer. Consumer groups have stated that phone companies are not researching the technology since it is easier to connect calls than selecting and blocking illegal calls.
"We look forward to continuing collaboration with government, law enforcement, and technology providers to eliminate illegal robocalls," promised Jonathan Banks, a senior vice president at USTelecom, a trade group that represents many of the major phone companies.