FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks on Friday publicly released responses he received from major voice service providers to letters he sent in June seeking details about their plans to offer free, default robocall blocking services to consumers.
Why? He’s less than pleased with the responses he received.
“I am publicly releasing the complete responses of the carriers – so that everyone can read their responses in their own words,” he says. “Despite historically clamoring for new tools, it does not appear that all providers have acted with haste to deploy opt-out robocall blocking services.”
That, he says, is in spite of the fact that the Federal Communications Commission “spoke clearly” on the scourge of robocalls: “we expect opt-out call blocking services to be offered to consumers for free.”
Upon reviewing the responses, “by and large, carriers’ plans for these services are far from clear.”
As such, Starks says, “If we find that carriers are acting contrary to our expectations, we will commence a rulemaking. I expect to be updated by carriers as progress is made on offering free call blocking services and recommend that carriers not stop until the job is finished. The sooner, the better.”
The FCC last month approved rules that would allow voice service providers to deploy call blocking, offered to consumers by default, on an informed opt-out basis.
The action expressed the Commission’s expectation that these services would be offered to consumers for free and, at Commissioner Starks’ request, directed Commission staff to prepare reports on the state of deployment of robocall blocking tools, including whether fees are being charged for the services.
The reports will be submitted to the Commission no later than 12 months, for the first report, and 24 months, for the second report, after the publication of the item in the Federal Register. Following delivery of the first report, the Commission will assess whether consumers are being charged and, if so, will seek comment on rules requiring providers that offer these services to do so for free.
For T-Mobile, SVP/Government Affairs Kathleen O’Brien Ham said, “While scam robocalls are annoying and, in some cases, dangerous to our customers, it is important to note that not all robocalls are bad. A robocall confirming a doctor’s appointment, for instance, is one that consumers likely want to receive.”
That said, Ham claims T-Mobile is “the industry leader in providing scam identification and blocking for free on a default basis.”
T-Mobile offers a Name ID application for customers who want to directly manage entire categories of robocalls; they can choose whether they want to send “Telemarketing calls,” “Political calls,” “Nuisance calls,” “Survey calls,” “Charity calls,” “Informational calls,” or “Prison/Jail calls” straight to voicemail. It also allows them to manage personal phone number block lists at the network level so that blocked numbers stay blocked even when customers switch to a new device.
Similarly, AT&T EVP/Regulatory & State External Affairs Joan Marsh touted its AT&T Call Protect service. She noted that AT&T is expanding this by providing automatic blocking of suspected fraud calls on an opt-out basis, at no charge, to new AT&T Mobility customers.
Marsh said, “AT&T’s efforts to combat illegal and unwanted robocalls are not limited to call blocking and labeling. Far from it. AT&T actively seeks to root out suspected illegal robocalls at their source as a founding member of USTelecom’s Industry Traceback Group, through which we regularly identify and investigate suspected high-volume robocall operations to refer to federal and state law enforcement.”
Meanwhile, Verizon SVP Kathleen Grillo wrote to Starks that it is “committed to continuing to improve the free blocking we offer our customers.”
Sprint confirmed that it will launch “a free version” of a call blocking application “in the near future,” suggesting plans are in place that are ready for implementation.
Also offering responses are CenturyLink, Charter Communications (Spectrum), Comcast (Xfinity), Cox, Frontier, Google, TDS Telecom, US Cellular, and Vonage.