What did the FCC do in June 2019 to block robocalls?
The FCC ruled that phone companies can use default blocking to automatically stop robocalls to their customers. Steps phone companies take to block robocalls need to be disclosed to consumers.
Why did the FCC take this action?
Consumers hate robocalls and complain about them a lot. Unwanted robocalls are the single largest source of consumer FCC complaints. And there is a feeling that the number of robocalls keeps increasing no matter what the FCC does.
How is this FCC ruling different than past rulings?
For the first time, phone companies are able block robocalls by default. In the past, consumers had to ask their phone company to block robocalls. Under the new rules, carriers can simply block all robocalls, except emergency calls.
Does this mean robocalls will start getting blocked immediately?
The FCC ruling really just allows phone companies to block robocalls as a default. The FCC did not require blocking, and it will probably take a significant period of time for the phone companies to actually implement blocking. The FCC still has to work out a bunch of details, including whether phone companies have legal liability for incorrectly blocked calls. The phone companies want a “safe harbor” established for all blocked calls, but the FCC has not addressed that issue yet.
Did the FCC set any limits on robocall blocking?
Phone companies can’t block emergency calls and must disclose their blocking programs to consumers. And if a phone company utilizes the consumer’s contact list to establish a “white list,” the phone company must disclose that they will be accessing the consumer’s contact for that purpose. Phone companies can pretty well utilize “any reasonable means” to identify and block robocalls they believe are unwanted.
Are there any mechanisms to prevent wanted robocalls from being blocked?
No. Although the FCC did state that emergency robocalls must go through, it did not establish safeguards to ensure that wanted calls go through. Phone companies “may” offer white listing programs, but they are not required to do so. The only real way to ensure a robocall goes through is to have the consumer opt-out of any default robocall blocking programs.
Is there anything I can do to make the situation better?
Yes. You can write to the FCC and let them know what action they should take. The FCC also is seeking comment from businesses and consumers on ways to make sure wanted robocalls, including emergency calls, go through and are not blocked. The FCC also wants to hear from the public on establishing a “safe harbor” for phone companies that block robocalls. Participating in the FCC’s public comment process is an important way to make things better for consumers and the industry.