The Federal Communications Commission wants to crack down on unwanted "robocalls" and is looking at ways to help consumers block them.
On Thursday, the commission voted unanimously to evaluate a system that would allow phone companies to check if a number calling you is legit. The goal is to deter unscrupulous companies that make these automated calls from "spoofing," or using a fake phone number to trick you into answering their calls.
A call authentication system could help improve third-party apps that allow consumers to block these calls. It could also open the door to phone companies that may want to offer a service to block unwanted calls.
The FCC has already been considering rules that would allow phone companies to block robocalls from unassigned numbers or from numbers that don't exist.
Ridding the world of robocalls entirely is tricky since some legitimate communications are made using automated call technology, such as messages from schools, weather alerts, public utilities or political organizations. Phone companies don't want to block legitimate calls that consumers want to receive.
The agency also voted to consider how to prevent unwanted calls after a number has been reassigned. There is currently no way for legitimate companies to know if customers who have agreed to receive their marketing calls are still using a particular number. The FCC wants to get public comment on how phone companies should report when a phone number has been reassigned and how the data could be used.
Robocalls are a big nuisance to consumers with an estimated 2.5 billion automated calls being made per month.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said robocalls are a top consumer complaint. "Americans are mad as hell" that they still get these calls in spite of efforts by Congress and the FCC to stop them, he said. The FCC said it gets more than 200,000 complaints each year concerning unwanted calls, and the Federal Trade Commission said it received roughly 5.3 million complaints about telemarketing calls in 2016.
Pai said the FCC's latest efforts to curb these calls could make a huge difference in the volume of robocalls consumers get.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn,agreed. She said the agency must take a "multi-pronged approach, to address this persistent problem."
The FCC has also been stepping up its enforcement of illegal robocalls. Separately, it voted 2-1 to fine a New Mexico-based company $2.88 million for making unlawful robocalls. Last month, the FCC fined a Florida resident $120 million for allegedly making almost 100 million illegal robocalls in a three-month period.
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