The hatred of robocalls is so great and so bipartisan that Congress sent President Trump a bill that requires phone companies to try to block such automated calls and strengthens the tools federal authorities can use to punish illicit robocallers. Trump signed the bill into law on Monday. This is a "big victory" for Americans with cellphones, said Maureen Mahoney at Consumer Reports. "The key is requiring these phone companies to help stop the calls before they reach the consumer and do it at no additional charge."
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), phone companies, and state attorneys general have already taken steps to quash robocalls, and the new law bolsters those efforts. The FCC can now fine robocallers without warning, has longer to collect those fines, and is authorized to levy steeper fines on intentional lawbreakers and encouraged to work with the Justice Department to prosecute criminals. The law also requires phone companies to deploy systems to identify and block fake or "spoofed" phone numbers at no extra cost to customers.
But thanks to cheap dialing technology and the potential for millions of dollars from scams, robocallers will "always find ways around this," says Paul Florack at Transaction Network Services, which runs robocall analytics for Sprint, Verizon, and other telecoms. "The law also does nothing about telemarketing calls that aren't automated," The Associated Press notes. "A human can still pester you unless you sign up for the Do Not Call registry, which scammers often ignore anyway." Imperfections aside, an estimated 50 percent of all phone calls are junk, and any improvement in that ratio is very welcome news. Peter Weber
Twelve major telecommunications firms and attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., announced new efforts Thursday to combat the scourge of illegal robocalls. In the deal, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and the other firms agreed to deploy call-blocking technology at the network level and provide other tools, like call labeling, for customers who want more screening options, all free of charge. There is no timeline for putting the anti-robocall principles into practice.
The Federal Communications Commission, which approved rules in June to encourage telecoms to block illegal robocalls by default and deploy a phone number verification technology called SHAKEN/STIR, congratulated the parties for reaching agreement. But as The Wall Street Journal explained in March, when the FCC started considering the rules, fighting robocalls is tricky and ending all robocalls is probably impossible, even with the newly adopted protocols.
Americans receive billions of robocalls a month, and robocall scammers bilked customers out of $9.5 billion in 2017, according to Truecaller. The companies participating in the nationwide agreement are AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, Comcast, Charter, U.S. Cellular, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, and Windstream. Not participating: Cox, Altice, and many small rural telecoms. Peter Weber