In an effort to curb the recent epidemic of spam and robocalls, Verizon announced this week that it will be giving all of its customers free access to protection tools (which were previously behind a paywall) starting this March.

As Joe Russo, senior vice president of network operations, explains, Verizon added call and spam screening to the Call Filter service at no additional charge for wireless customers over a year ago. This alerted customers to potential spam calls before they answered. Customers on some Android phones also had the ability to receive free alerts when a call was detected as possibly being spam. Wireline customers with Caller ID received Spam Alerts too.

But now that the problem has reached a fever pitch (and the government has gotten involved), Verizon has decided to start giving away these tools, rather than charging for them. Here’s what customers can expect:

In March, we will be rolling out our free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of our wireless customers whose smartphones support these features, including iPhone and Android devices. There will be more information on how to sign up for the free service as we get closer to launch.

Unfortunately, stopping spam isn’t as simple as blocking spoofed numbers, which is why Verizon is taking a number of additional steps beyond giving away its protection tools to fight back against robocalls:

  • We’ve implemented programs to prevent our services from being used by illegal robocallers. And we’re encouraging other voice service providers to implement similar “know your customer” programs.
  • We have committed to and support the new “STIR/SHAKEN” call authentication technology which will visually alert consumers to spoofed calls and we support legislation requiring service providers to deploy the STIR/SHAKEN call authentication technology.
  • Verizon is also a founding member of the US Telecom Industry Traceback Group, an industry-led organization that traces back suspicious robocall traffic, stops many illegal robocalls and helps enforcement agencies catch the bad guys. Since being a founding member two years ago, more than 20 other organizations have joined the initiative. Without these activities, the flood of illegal robocalls would be even greater.
  • Lastly, we support stronger federal laws to outlaw spoofing and to shut down illegal robocallers. Few robocallers get charged with illegal spoofing because the Truth in Caller ID Act defines “spoofing” narrowly. The government currently must prove the caller intended to defraud, cause harm, or illegally obtain something of value. Verizon supports a simple rule that would make it illegal for any caller to use any phone number that it is not authorized to use.  Verizon also supports legislation, including the TRACED Act, to strengthen enforcement against illegal robocallers and to require other service providers to join us in implementing the STIR/SHAKEN call authentication technology.

While it’s disappointing that it took this long for Verizon to give all of its customers unrestricted access to tools that can keep them safe from robocalls (and help them retain their sanity when their phones are ringing off the hook dozens of times a week), it’s nice to see carriers begin to take spam more seriously.