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Attorneys General Call on AT&T, CenturyLink, T-Mobile to Offer Call-Blocking Technology

A coalition of attorneys general this week called on the nation’s largest phone companies to offer their customers technology that blocks unsolicited calls.

While industry representatives previously raised concerns that such technology may violate federal law, the Federal Communications Commission last month issued a rule clarification that stated otherwise, 45 attorneys general wrote in a July 22 letter that was addressed to the leaders of AT&T Inc., CenturyLink Inc., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile USA and Verizon Communications.

“Though our offices work diligently to prosecute those who violate state and federal laws intended to prevent such calls, our enforcement efforts alone cannot stop the problem,” the attorneys general wrote. “The better solution is to stop intrusive calls before they ever reach the consumer.”

The letter called on wireless and landline carriers to swiftly adopt call-blocking technologies, noting that such options are already available for Android cellphones and VoIP service.

“Every year, our offices are flooded with consumer complaints pleading for a solution to stop intrusive robocalls,” the attorneys general concluded in the letter. “Your organizations are now poised to offer your customers the help they need. We urge you to act without delay.”

USTelecom, the trade association in Washington, D.C. whose members include AT&T and Verizon, expressed support for the idea.

“Our members offer a number of call blocking solutions, from tools that force anonymous or out-of-area callers to identify themselves before the call is completed to call rejections and white-listing approved callers,” said Jon Banks, USTelecom Senior Vice President, in a statement. “Many third-party options also are available, and we continue to work with industry forums to develop even better solutions to stay ahead of the many sophisticated ways criminals manipulate calling services to harass the public.”

Jeffrey Silva, a Sprint spokesman, said the company is reviewing the letter and the FCC’s recent ruling “to determine how their concerns can be best addressed.”

“We understand consumers’ concern about the problem of unlawful, automated calls and share their frustration with mass telephone solicitations,” Linda Johnson, a CenturyLink spokeswoman, said in a statement. “CenturyLink currently provides several tools that can help reduce the recurrence of …

… unwanted calls, which include our no solicitation and security screening products or privacy ID, where available. We will continue to work with our industry colleagues to identify and address the sources of illegal robocalls, which pose an annoyance to consumers, facilitate telephone-based fraud and burden our nation’s telecommunications networks.”

The FCC last month adopted a number of rulings related to unwanted calls and spam texts, including its opinion that phone carriers can offer call-blocking technology. In 2014, the FCC received more than 215,000 complaints related to unwanted calls.

“I detest robocalls,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said last month in a statement. “I’m not alone. Year-in and year-out, Telephone Consumer Protection Act complaints are the largest single category of complaints that consumers lodge with us here at the Commission.”

Rosenworcel noted the Federal Trade Commission also receives tens of thousands of complaints and at one point received nearly 200,000 grievances in a single month. 

“Ugh. It’s time — long past time — to do something about this,” she declared.


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