Cell providers open to FCC approval to automatically block robocalls

Writer: Jack Lowenstein
(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

We can only hope Thursday is America’s independence day from robocalls, since the Federal Communications Commission gave phone companies approval to automatically block those pesky calls.

“The one thing in our country today that unites republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, vegetarians and carnivores, Ohio State and Michigan fans,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “It is that they are sick and tired of being bombarded by unwanted robocalls.”

MORE: FCC paves the way for widespread blocking of robocalls

Phone subscribers won’t have to do a thing. While cell phone carriers offered similar programs in the past, customers had to opt in for those.

Not only are robocalls a nuisance, but they cost Americans lots of money. Vietnam War veteran Harry Rosario Learned this the hard way. He paid a robocall scammer hundreds of dollars because he thought it was a satellite company.

“One way or another, we gotta stop this,” Rosario said.

While FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the change long overdue, she’s worried about who is going to pay for it.

“There is nothing about our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers with this blocking technology to stop robocalls,” Rosenworcel said.

We spent the afternoon talking to major phone providers to find out if they plan to charge customers for robocall blocking services:

AT&T said it will not charge customers for this type of service.

“Today, the FCC took another major step in combating the robocall problem,” an AT&T spokesperson sent us in an email. “The commission’s action will enable broader adoption of call-blocking tools to avoid unwanted robocalls and lays the groundwork for providers to block more robocalls to protect their customers and networks.”

The spokesperson said AT&T is committed to working alongside the FCC and the industry to “curtail illegal and unwanted calls.”

Other layers of free protection includes an automatic in-network systems that label or block billions of unwanted or illegal robocalls. No download or customer action is needed.

AT&T Mobile Security & Call Protect is available for download as an app or by going into your account settings on my AT&T and turning it on. If you download the app, you can create a personal blocked number list.

Digital Phone Call Protect is available by going into your account settings on myAT&T and turning it on. You can also block up to 100 callers by pressing *61 after the unwanted call.

Verizon said it will not charge for robocall-blocking services.

One way the cell provider will do this is through its free Call Filter service. And it introduced a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN for caller ID back in March.


T-Mobile said it will offer a free robocall-blocking service.

“T-Mobile already offers a Scam Block feature for free on an opt-in basis,” a T-Mobile spokesperson sent us in an email. “Customers can enable the feature Scam Block for free directly in their T-Mobile account by dialing #662# from your T-Mobile phone, or in the free version of our Name ID app.”

MORE: Get automatic scam protection for your phone

This service has been offered since March 2017 to T-Mobile customers. As soon as a call reaches the T-Mobile network, it’s analyzed, and scam calls are then tagged to warn the customer that it’s “Scam Likely.” The T-Mobile network uses machine learning and AI to update every 6 minutes.

The T-Mobile spokesperson told us, the provider has alerted customers to over 10 billion “Scam Likely” calls. But they say it’s getting worse.

“In 2019 we’re alerting customers to an average of 225 million scam likely calls per week,” the T-Mobile spokesperson said.

Sprint offers an optional, paid blocking service.

It’s called Premium Caller ID, which is an additional $2.99 per month for subscribers.

MORE: FAQs about Premium Caller ID

“This application allows Sprint customers on both Android and iOS devices to subscribe to an optional, paid service,” the Sprint spokesperson sent to us in an email. “That empowers them to receive information about the type of caller that is attempting to reach them and to set up preferences to block spoofed calls and other robocalls.”

Sprint also said it’s committed to working alongside the FCC and other industry leaders to prevent robocalls.

“We appreciate and support the FCC’s orders to give carriers more flexibility and freedom to block illegal and unwanted calls,” the Sprint spokesperson said. “We will continue to work to provide the tools that will help to solve this industry issue. And, we are fully committed to deploying SHAKEN/STIR, and plan to implement and test cross-carrier interoperation this year.”

The providers admit they don’t know how many calls the new technology will block, but experts predict it will make a difference and subscribers will get fewer. Anyone concerned about missing calls can opt out.

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