AT&T Will Now Filter Robocall Spam, If You Pay Them Extra
from the ill-communication dept
When the FCC recently released its “new” robocall plan, consumer groups quickly noted how it wasn’t really new, and didn’t actually accomplish much of anything. Outside of making it clear that carriers could implement robocall blocking tech by default, most of the plan was just a rehash of past (inadequate) FCC policies. Worse, the plan fixates almost exclusively on “scam” calls (when “legit” telemarketers and debt collectors are the biggest culprits of unwanted calls), and does absolutely nothing to punish carriers that fail to implement either call blocking tech, or call authentication tech (to thwart number “spoofing”).
Another criticism of the plan was that it opened the door to letting carriers using the robocall scourge as an excuse to charge consumers even more money for protection that most think should be included free by default. For example Harold Feld, a lawyer for consumer group Public Knowledge, recently predicted just this thing when I spoke to him about the FCC’s (not really) new plan back in May:
“Feld said the plan also opens the door to U.S. mobile data customers ? who already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world ? paying even more money to mobile carriers for tools consumer groups argue should be free and part of existing service by default.
?Pai can?t resist giving carriers more goodies at consumer expense,? Feld says. ?While we will need to see the actual language of the proposed order, this appears to allow carriers to have complete discretion to filter calls however they want in the name of blocking robocalls, and then insert a ?robocall blocking? line item fee on your bill.?
Last week, AT&T demanded a hefty pat on the back for finally offering consumers robocall blocking tools. Many in the press were happy to praise the company for being “the first major wireless company to automatically block spam calls.” But a closer inspection showed that not only was AT&T’s new offering not really new, the company was doing exactly what Feld warned about. While AT&T did offer some limited robocall blocking functionality for free, to actually block suspected spam calls consumers need to pay an additional $4 per month:
“Despite the change, customers will still have to manually add undesired phone numbers to block lists or pay $4 a month to send all suspected spam calls to voicemail. That’s because this is little more than an expansion of AT&T’s Call Protect service, which has a basic free tier and a paid tier with automatic blocking of spam calls.
Phone companies can block robocalls by default starting today, FCC says Call Protect has been available since 2016 but only if customers opted in to it. The difference now is that Call Protect will be added to AT&T phone lines automatically.”
Outlets like CNN somehow forgot to mention to readers that actually protecting yourself from annoying spam calls would cost extra. They also failed to note how AT&T has spent the better part of the last decade blaming everybody but themselves for their own failure to do more to police robocalls. Nor did anybody much mention AT&T’s long history of turning a blind eye on scams perpetrated on the company’s own customers, especially in instances where they’ve netted a cut of the proceeds.
Most news outlets seem to have bought the FCC and industry claim that the only thing preventing us from ending robocall hell was murky FCC policy regarding the carrier ability to deploy robocall blocking tools by default. In reality, the lion’s share of our robocall problems stem from carriers which don’t want to pay for the tech, and/or want to turn fixing the problem into yet another profit center. Another major problem is that while the FCC is happy to fixate on easier smaller scam operations, they’re not really keen on holding larger and more politically powerful telemarketers and debt collectors, many of which ignore existing law, harass consumers, and use the same tactics as scam outfits, accountable for the exact same behavior.