US states tell telcos: block telemarketing calls

  • TECH
  • Thursday, 23 Jul 2015

DO NOT DISTURB: Phone companies should offer customers the technology to block unwanted automated calls.

The attorneys general of 44 US states and Washington DC asked the country's largest phone companies to install technology that would allow consumers to block automated telemarketing calls, known as robocalls.

In a letter to the chief executives of AT&T Inc, CenturyLink Inc, Sprint Corp, T-Mobile USA Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, the attorneys general said a June 18 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission made clear there are no legal barriers to offering the technology.

The FCC gave what it called a "green light" for phone companies to offer "do not disturb" services to consumers, including technology to block unwanted automated calls.

This ruling "should remove any doubt about your legal authority to empower consumers by providing call-blocking technology to help stop robocalls, scam text messages and unwanted telemarketing calls," attorneys general including Indiana's Greg Zoeller and Missouri's Chris Koster told the phone companies.

Technology already exists to stop robocalls on Internet phone services and Android phones, they added.

Marty Jackley, the South Dakota attorney general and president of the National Association of Attorneys General, said the technology can help prevent the large number of phone scams, including identity theft, that states have identified.

"Our expectation and hope is that the leading telecommunications providers will take advantage of the rule change and use the new technology," Jackley said in an interview.

Last year, the FCC received more than 215,000 complaints alleging violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a federal law meant to curb robocalls and telemarketing abuses. They are by far the most common consumer complaint it receives.

While more than 217 million phone numbers have been registered with the National Do Not Call Registry, many companies ignore it, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Jon Banks, a spokesman for USTelecom, a trade group representing phone companies, in a statement said the group is "fully on board" with the states, and will continue working closely with authorities "to put bad actors out of business."

CenturyLink said it shares consumers' "frustration" with mass telephone solicitations, and Verizon encouraged better enforcement of anti-robocalling laws. The other phone companies had no immediate comment or referred to the USTelecom statement. — Reuters
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