Cutting off Robocalls

Robocalls and telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints at the FCC. The Commission is committed to protecting consumers from unwanted calls and giving them more control over the calls and texts they receive.  We will tackle robocalls on as many fronts as possible, whether by implementing new rules, issuing tailored declaratory judgments, encouraging new pro-consumer innovation or urging the private sector to step up and stop this scourge.

Today, consumers have protections from unwanted calls. For example, the FCC requires private robocallers to have prior consent to robocall or robotext your cell phone.  Further, consumers can register their numbers with the FTC’s Do Not Call list, which requires legitimate telemarketers to stop calling you.  In addition, the FCC expects that phone companies will respond to consumer requests to block robocalls.    

In regard to the Commission’s expectations that carriers respond to consumers’ blocking requests, I have sent letters to the CEOs of major wireless and wireline phone companies calling on them to offer call-blocking services to their customers now – at no cost to you. Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive. I have also sent letters to intermediary carriers that connect robocallers to the consumer’s phone company, reminding them of their responsibility to help facilitate the offering of blocking technologies.  I am also calling on the carriers and standards groups to accelerate the development and deployment of technical standards that would prevent spoofing of caller ID and thus make blocking technologies more effective, as was done in the battle against spam years ago.  All of these companies have been asked to respond within 30 days with their concrete, actionable solutions to address these issues.

Congress directed the Commission to implement consumer protections empowering consumers to decide which robocalls and text messages they receive, and the Commission enforces those rules. We can and will investigate complaints; the Commission has brought 13 formal enforcement actions to combat unlawful robocalls since 2013. For example, last year the Commission fined a Florida company nearly $3 million for illegal calls promoting travel deals and shut down an extensive robocalling operation affecting wireless consumers in West Virginia. But consumers would rather not receive unwanted calls in the first place, making pro-active intervention preferable to after-the-fact enforcement. The Commission has done its part, making clear that phone companies face no legal barriers to helping consumers block unwanted calls with the use of robocall blocking technology. Today, we urge carriers to step up to take that responsibility.

In addition, the Commission will continue to pursue regulatory solutions to crack down on unwanted robocalls. Last year, the Commission closed loopholes in our robocall restrictions, including placing limits on calls to reassigned numbers. After Congress changed the law authorizing the FCC to limit the number and duration of robocalls to collect federal debts, last week I circulated rules to place limits on these robocalls. This new proposal would limit the number of debt-collection calls allowed per month, ensure the right person is called, and allow consumers to stop the calls. Such limitations are particularly important following a January Supreme Court ruling that federal government entities conducting official business are not subject to robocall limits unless Congress says otherwise.   We also continue to process a steady stream of questions about how the law should be interpreted, including an upcoming decision relating to certain robocalls that utility companies and schools can make.

Here’s the bottom line: Robocalls are currently the number one complaint the FCC receives from consumers. Whenever and wherever Congress and the courts give us the authority, the Commission will push hard for strong, pro-consumer limits to robocalls and other unwanted calls.


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