The Federal Communications Commission voted June 6 to allow phone carriers to take more aggressive steps to block suspected spam and scam calls and make enrollment in their robocall-blocking services automatic, as opposed to opt-in.
Notably, the new FCC rule does not require the carriers to automatically enroll customers in robocall blocking—it merely allows them to do so, something they couldn't do before for legal liability reasons. A second part of the rule proposes protections from lawsuits for phone companies that mistakenly block a call that should have been allowed to go through.
While the new rule does not say the services should be offered for free, the FCC has stated it expects they will be.
These changes come at a moment when millions of Americans, feeling under seige from nonstop robocalls, have fundamentally changed the way they use their phones in the first place. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 70% of respondents say they will not answer a call if they don't recognize the number that appears on their caller ID screen.
In fact, robocalls are the number one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, one of the agencies that along with the FCC is in charge of regulating the telecom industry. In May there were 4.7 billion robocalls made—43% of them were scam calls, according to YouMail, a robocall-blocking and tracking technology firm.
The FCC rule also makes other consumer protections available and clarifies expectations regarding even tougher robocall-blocking technology. For example, consumers will now be able to tell their carrier to block any calls that aren't contained in their phone's contact list. Known as whitelisting, this is considered a kind of nuclear option because it could result in missing important calls, not just spam or scam ones.