The Federal Communications Commission ruled Thursday that phone companies can block robocalls to customers automatically, making such services opt out rather than opt in. The ruling also says companies can let customers request that callers not in their contacts or on other preapproved lists automatically be blocked.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also warned carriers that they could face additional regulation if they don’t implement technology known as Stir/Shaken, which adds verification to caller ID information, by the end of the year.
“I believe that a voluntary, industry-led process is most likely to achieve this goal,” he said in a statement. “And to date, I’ve been pleased by the progress that industry has made and am optimistic that the end-of-the year deadline will be met. But in case it isn’t, the FCC will not hesitate to take regulatory action.”
Robocalls, many of them scams, have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with call-blocking service YouMail reporting that almost 48 billion were made to U.S. numbers in 2018 alone.
In a statement, Verizon said that it is already implementing Stir/Shaken and offering free robocall blocking to consumers.
“As we continue to evolve the service, we intend to take advantage of the new flexibility the FCC is giving us,” according to the company. “With the help of these new FCC rules, we’ll be able to provide our customers the benefits of spam alerts and blocking more broadly and conveniently.”
Similarly, T-Mobile said in a statement that it offers free fraudulent call identification and blocking.
“In 2019 we’re alerting customers to an average of 225 million Scam Likely calls per week,” according to the company, referring to how suspected fraud calls are flagged on caller ID.
The other major cell phone carriers didn’t immediately respond to inquiries from Fast Company.
In a separate statement, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel lamented that the new ruling doesn’t require carriers to block robocalls for free.
“I am disappointed that for all our efforts to support new blocking technology, we couldn’t muster up the courage to do what consumers want most—stop robocalls and do it for free,” she said.