By Nilay Patel

The FCC voted to give cell providers explicit permission to stop the madness

The FCC voted unanimously today to allow carriers to block robocalls by default, setting the stage for the major carriers to take action against the surge of unwanted automated calls that basically everyone hates. The agency also voted to move forward on a proposed rule that would require carriers to adopt the SHAKEN / STIR caller ID authentication system if they don’t do it themselves by year-end.

Robocalls are one of the few issues the FCC is totally aligned on — the unwanted calls are by far the number one issue consumers file complaints about. Pai, a Republican, has called them the “scourge of civilization,” while Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said that the unwanted calls have “changed the fabric of our culture” when he appeared on The Vergecast last month.

The vote comes just two weeks after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the blocking rule, which he said was designed to give carriers “certainty” about whether automatic blocking was allowed or not. Carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile have offered robocall-blocking services for a while, but they were opt-in; the new rule gives them cover to enable those services by default, and restrict calls to numbers that are already in your contact list. Here’s the blockquote from the FCC press release:

The Commission approved a Declaratory Ruling to affirm that voice service providers may, as the default, block unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics, as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking.

The ruling also clarifies that providers may offer their customers the choice to opt-in to tools that block calls from any number that does not appear on a customer’s contact list or other “white lists.” This option would allow consumers to decide directly whose calls they are willing to receive. Consumer white lists could be based on the customer’s own contact list, updated automatically as consumers add and remove contacts from their smartphones.

Importantly, the new rule does not require carriers to turn on robocall blocking by default, and it doesn’t mandate that any such services have to be free. Chairman Pai’s official statement on the vote does not say anything about the services being free, but Commissioner Starks issued a statement today saying he does expect these services to be free. “Providers who implement these services will save billions of dollars as network capacity is freed up,” he said. “I would have serious concerns with a carrier that includes a line item on consumers’ bills or otherwise charges them for these services.”


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