FCC Wants to Make It Easier to Block Annoying Robocalls

The commission plans to tighten its rules on telemarketing.

CHICAGO - APRIL 02:  Pedestrians stand at an intersection in the Loop talking on her cell phone April 2, 2008 in Chicago. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has proposed to ban on the use of a cell phones while crossing the street.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
National Journal
May 27, 2015, 12:04 p.m.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion plans to take steps to com­bat rob­ocalls and spam text mes­sages that have long irked con­sumers.

FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er un­veiled a pro­pos­al Wed­nes­day that would make it easi­er for con­sumers to de­mand that tele­marketers stop con­tact­ing them. Un­der the pro­pos­al, con­sumers could with­draw their con­sent to be con­tac­ted in any “reas­on­able” way, such as ask­ing on the phone. Pre­vi­ously, some tele­marketers had de­man­ded that con­sumers send in a writ­ten form to be re­moved from their list.

Ac­cord­ing to the FCC, it re­ceived more than 215,000 com­plaints about un­wanted calls and texts in 2014, mak­ing it the top con­sumer com­plaint to the agency.

The FCC also plans to cla­ri­fy that phone com­pan­ies can of­fer rob­ocall-block­ing tech­no­lo­gies to con­sumers. Com­pan­ies had been hes­it­ant about of­fer­ing the ser­vices, fear­ing they could run afoul of oth­er FCC rules. The pro­pos­al also would ex­pand the FCC’s defin­i­tion of an “auto­dialer” used for rob­ocalls, and re­strict calls to phone num­bers that have have been re­as­signed to a new sub­scriber.

At the same time, the FCC plans to loosen its rob­o­call­ing rules in cer­tain cases, such as al­low­ing free calls or texts for pos­sible fraud on bank ac­counts or a re­mind­er to re­fill med­ic­a­tion.

In a state­ment, Sen. Ed­ward Mar­key, a Mas­sachus­setts Demo­crat, said he ap­pre­ci­ates the FCC’s ef­forts to help con­sumers block rob­ocalls, but he wor­ried that the pro­posed ex­emp­tions “will res­ult in an in­crease in un­wanted calls and texts to con­sumers without their con­sent.”

CTIA-the Wire­less As­so­ci­ation and USTele­com, lob­by­ing as­so­ci­ations for the phone com­pan­ies, said they are re­view­ing the FCC’s pro­pos­al, and em­phas­ized that they want to help con­sumers avoid un­wanted calls.

The rules are set for a vote June 18, and will need to re­ceive ap­prov­al from a ma­jor­ity of the five com­mis­sion­ers.

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