FCC says annoyed consumers can say no to robocalls

Under a new plan, phone carriers can block robocalls and automated text messages upon request by customers.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/FILE
Eleanor Blum, 88, solves crossword puzzles, as she lets her phone go unanswered at her in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles.

Phone companies are now a step closer to blocking robocalls.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday adopted a rule giving phone companies the green light to block automatically dialed robocalls and text messages on both landlines and wireless phones.

“In a package of declaratory rulings, the Commission affirmed consumers’ rights to control the calls they receive,” the FCC announced in a statement. “As part of this package, the Commission also made clear that telephone companies face no legal barriers to allowing consumers to choose to use robocall-blocking technology.”

The step was taken after the FCC received a flood of complaints about robocalls, even though for years consumers have been able to put their phone numbers on a nationwide "Do-Not-Call" registry. In 2014, the commission received more than 215,000 complaints, the largest category of complaints.

Under the new rule, consumers can revoke their consent to receive robocalls “in any reasonable way at any time.” Telephone companies can block robocalls and automated text messages upon a consumer’s request, by offering blocking technologies and implementing market-based solutions.

The measure was approved by a three to two vote.

“I detest robocalls. I’m not alone,” Jessica Rosenworcel, one of three Democrats who approved the measure told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s time – long past time – to do something about this.”

Michael O'Reilly and Ajit Pai, two Republican commissioners who voted against the measure agree that robocalls are annoying, but say the new rules would make it difficult for businesses to serve their customers.

Using robocalls to sell something without a phone line owner’s written permission is illegal.

Consumer advocates and some members of Congress believe blocking is the only way to stop them.

CNN reported in February that the non-profit Consumers Union had gathered more than 190,000 signatures to pressure phone companies to take action against robocalls.

But not everyone is happy about this decision. Survey takers believe this measure will jeopardize access to information about public's lives and opinions.

“It’s really going to be a horrible thing potentially for the research profession and potentially for society,” Howard Fienberg, director of government affairs for the Marketing Research Association told the Los Angeles Times ahead of the FCC vote.

Pollster Peter Hart also told the paper that losing the advantage of public opinion polling on issues of the days will have "a profound effect on democracy."

FCC however believes this decision was made because the public has requested it.

“The American public has asked us – repeatedly – to do something about unwanted robocalls,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Thursday.

“Today, the FCC stands by consumers with its clear message to industry that consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action.

Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America, also said that they “expect companies to act quickly to implement blocking options for their customers.”

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