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The FCC is finally taking robocalls seriously

Published Jun 6th, 2019 6:04PM EDT
Image: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/REX/Shutterstock

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai quoted a late Democratic Senator from South Carolina, Fritz Hollings, in an op-ed he penned for USA Today Thursday ahead of a vote by the commission to give carriers new permission to block robocalls by default. The FCC’s vote Thursday was unanimous, a rare thing in the nation’s capital these days, so score one for the fight against what Pai reminded everyone today, in Hollings’ words, is the “scourge of civilization.”

The commission’s vote made it clear that carriers can proactively take action to now block by default these kinds of calls, the number of which approached 5 billion in May according to robocall blocking company YouMail. These are the spammy calls that include everything from annoying telemarketers to sketchy sales pitches for tax help, dodgy insurance plans and more.

Per an FCC news release, the commission today approved a ruling that affirms “voice service providers may, as the default, block unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics, as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking.

“This action empowers providers to protect their customers from unwanted robocalls before those calls even reach the customers’ phones.” Which is a posture that carriers and handset manufacturers were already starting to lean in to, as Apple most recently demonstrated during its WWDC 2019 event earlier this week.

When the newest version of the company’s mobile operating software arrives this fall, it will include a new option that automatically sends straight to voicemail every call originating from a number that can’t be found in the user’s Contacts, Mail or Messages.

YouMail’s estimate of 4.7 billion robocalls bombarding Americans in May actually represented the second consecutive month showing a decline — though the problem is still seriously out of control, since the latest total means we’ve seen about 25 billion robocalls in the US year to date.

In a statement after Thursday’s FCC vote, Consumer Reports police analyst Maureen Mahoney praised the move. “We support … these steps by the FCC today, but there is still much more work to be done — including getting phone companies to implement anti-robocall technology, and ensuring that this service is provided to consumers free of charge.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.