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FCC Moves to Increase the Use of Technology for Blocking Robocalls

FCC chairman Ajit Pai proposed a rule that would empower mobile phone carriers to automatically block the unwanted calls.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai proposed a rule that would empower mobile phone carriers to automatically block the unwanted calls.(Bloomberg)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has repeatedly said that ending the scourge of robocalls is a top priority. On Wednesday, he announced plans for the most aggressive action yet toward achieving that goal.

The chairman, Ajit Pai, proposed a rule that would empower mobile phone carriers to automatically block the unwanted calls, which often involve scams, by employing tools that filtered out calls from unidentified or unwanted callers.

The action would not stop all robocalls. The blocking technology can already be installed by consumers, and scammers have found some ways around it.

But the proposal could lead to wider use of the technology, which stops calls from numbers that do not appear on lists of numbers known to be legitimate.

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“The American people are fed up with illegal robocalls,” Pai said in a call with reporters. “We need to make it easier for phone companies to block these robocalls.”

A vote on the proposal is expected at a meeting of the commissioners June 6. It is likely to be approved.

Illegal robocalls have grown quickly in recent years, despite federal do-not-call lists and legal action against the companies behind the calls.

The commission received 5.8 million complaints about unwanted calls last year. The number of robocalls increased by 66 percent, to 48 billion, from 2016 to 2018, according to YouMail, which tracks robocalls.

Not all robocalls are illegal. Emergency services, political polling, and municipal and school alerts are delivered by automatic calling.

Pai said carriers could not use the blocking tool to fend off emergency services calls. Under his proposal, carriers would be able to identify the phone numbers that blast Americans with calls from bogus services that target consumers, often for financial gain. The carriers could then stop calls from those numbers.