Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink: You’re On Your Own to Stop Robocalls
Public Policy Fellow
We believe the major phone companies are best equipped to end robocalls by blocking these calls before they reach you. After all, they are the phone companies, with huge staffs of engineers and the latest technology at their fingertips.
The companies’ short answer: You should be doing most of the work to stop robocalls right now, not them.
All the companies said they were ‘working’ on the problem (you can read their responses at the end of this column), yet none agreed to immediately offer all their landline and Internet-based phone customers free call-blocking solutions, even though technology exists.
In fact, Verizon suggested that you research products on the market to block robocalls, and that Consumers Union should test and conduct an educational campaign about which tools work best. (Note: We are doing just that, but don’t believe the responsibility should be on you, the paying phone customer, to shell out more money to block illegal or unwanted calls).
As robocall complaints reach record levels – Do Not Call list complaints have more than doubled in the past seven years – the phone companies have hung back instead of leading the charge.
For example, the free blocking service Nomorobo has been made available only to select customers who get their phone service through Internet technology (such as Verizon FiOS Digital Voice and AT&T U-Verse customers). So far, phone companies haven’t allowed it to be used by those with traditional landline phones or wireless customers. CenturyLink hasn’t offered it at all.
And it’s important to note that Nomorobo wasn’t made by an expert telecom engineer. The creator of the product, Aaron Foss, worked out of his home on his own dime to come up with a workable call-blocking solution.
We find it hard to believe that the phone companies with their vast staff of experts can’t develop a similar, or even better, free service to offer to all of their consumers. And so do top engineers working on the problem.
“A lot of the issues around robocalls are not technology issues, they are money and policy issues,” says Dr. Eric Burger, computer science professor at Georgetown University and member of the Internet Engineering Task Force that is developing longer-term solutions. While he cautions that it would be impossible to eliminate all unwanted robocalls, Dr. Burger argues that the phone companies are capable of putting a major dent in the robocall ‘spoofing’ problem now by verifying the identities of callers, but lack the will to do so.
The other excuses the companies give for not offering free blocking tools – that call-blocking technology could stop legal robocalls like public safety announcements or nonprofit pitches, or that they simply don’t have the legal authority to block incoming calls – can and are being addressed.
We believe that the phone companies can easily work with consumers, public safety and nonprofit organizations to create a “whitelist” of acceptable calls. And the FCC is expected to rule soon on whether phone companies are within their legal rights to offer robocall-blocking tools. (Consumers Union believes companies can legally block unwanted calls, and the FTC agrees with us.)
It’s time Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink make ending robocalls their top priority, and begin offering all of their customers real, free, effective solutions to stop these unwanted and illegal calls. If you haven’t yet, sign our petition to the phone companies, and join 300,000 consumers who already are part of this campaign.