US seeks new tools to counter unrelenting wave of robocalls

FCC Chairman Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will reportedly crack down on illegal robocalls on Wednesday. Mark Wilson Getty Images

Service providers have historically been reluctant to develop and deploy call block tools by default due to uncertainty regarding their legality under the FCC's rules. Companies would also allow consumers to block calls from unknown numbers themselves.

In recent months, though, Pai has sought to pressure the AT&T, Verizon and other companies to adopt new technology that would present consumers with an alert when they're receiving a call that's coming from a number believed to be fraudulent. Major carriers and third-party app developers already offer free or paid call blocking applications, but they require customers to opt into the service. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, Pai said, the FCC will give service providers the certainty they've been missing.

YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls and tracks them, estimated there were 4.9 billion unwanted us calls last month after almost 48 billion in 2018, which was up almost 60 percent over 2017.

The FCC proposes new rules that would allow phone companies to block robocalls before they reach customers.

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If approved, the FCC's proposal would squash those fears and could take effect later this year.

New measures by USA regulators could help thwart some of the billions of robocalls received in the U.S. Such a system, Pai says, could have a "significant dent in robocalls", but the agency did not have a numerical estimate.

Verizon Communications Inc praised the FCC for "taking aggressive action and exploring new tools to protect consumers". Carriers would also have flexibility in how they dispose of spam calls, such as sending the calls straight to voicemail, alerting the customer of the robocalls, or blocking the calls altogether.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said this week the FCC should require call authentication technology and make available free tools to consumers to block calls.

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That marks a 46 percent increase from 2017, when users logged about 18 billion robocalls. A January report from Hiya, a caller ID service, said there were 26.3 billion robocalls made in the U.S. in 2018.

What's more, as people in the USA get a barrage of spam calls, many are increasingly choosing not to answer the phone at all. The number breaks down to an average of 10 monthly calls per person.

Of the spam calls received, majority were 'general spam, ' followed by fraud, telemarketers and robocallers.

Along with analytics, companies could also allow customers to submit a so-called "white list" of allowable numbers, which would rely on existing contacts.

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Robocalls have become so common that a 2018 report predicted nearly 50 percent of all mobile calls will be scam calls this year.

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