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.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: at&t

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “AT&T Will Now Filter Robocall Spam, If You Pay Them Extra”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Do I really need a phone number anymore?

I’m old enough to remember life before cell phones (well before them being common place). Over a decade ago I canceled my land line when I realized that the land line bill was higher than the cell bill (this was before data plans were common) and I hadn’t used the land line at all in that billing period.

While I do still have occasional phone calls, I am communicating with text messages and e-mail far more than voice calls. As there are alternatives (although not integrated) for voice, I’m not sure a voice and text plan is even needed anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Do I really need a phone number anymore?

Your cell phone has a phone number, too. And the scammers/spammers will abuse that number like any other. If you’re not getting 5+ spam/scam calls on your cell phone every single day like I am then count yourself among the lucky ones. For now.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Do I really need a phone number anymore?

Five per day?

I returned from a week out of town to find the shits blew up the phone company provided answering machine within the first four days. Then the phone itself recorded another dozen or so calls that the machine could not answer before it gave up on the fifth day.

Then you try to return calls and find everything is your fault … six degrees of gaslighting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Do I really need a phone number anymore?

Its certainly possible to drop the voice service. I setup a phone with no SIM card to receive voice and text msgs (free google apps and free phone #) and it works ok – really dont use it much since I have a typical cell/data plan that my company pays for. But I suspect you’ll still be subject to spam.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Do I really need a phone number anymore?

Google Voice does a great job of filtering spam. Unfortunately, with Hangouts going away, using voice/text that way has got a bit more convoluted.

This is one of those situations where Google’s tech works so well that I have no qualms with giving up some of my privacy to them in order to properly filter my voice calls.

Anonymous Coward says:

I do what everyone else does, you not in the contact list, your call does not get answered as I don’t know you. It’s amazing that this actually works and spam calls along with robocalls have nearly ceased.

I’m sure that makes all the congressmen happy trying to drum up campaign contributions along with the political parties. Since they won’t address the issue, I’ve found a way that works for me.

I’m sure those that have to answer the phone from business locations are not that thrilled.

ECA (profile) says:


why do we pay for the service anyway..??
Phones have been subsidized for years, and 90% of what they get is Straight profit.. they dont need to do many repairs, only basic installations.. And Cellphones, after Setup properly, Last and last, unless you want to upgrade..
Year ago there was a BIG cut in employees at ATT.. think it was over 1/3. They have shifted to Mobil, and letting th e Copper Fail..
$30 per month is allot when you consider how much is possible from 1 Cell tower..everything passed $1000-2000 is Profit.
And Information/numbers, are an independent company now.

mephistophocles (profile) says:

IF it works...

I’m assuming this "service" you have to pay $4 for will work about as well as AT&T’s rural cell coverage. Meaning, it won’t. At all. So this is a $4 fee for a "product" that puts it in compliance with a non-mandatory "directive" from Pai, but doesn’t actually, you know, work.

No thanks. I’ll stick with 3rd-party apps that do work. And, not use AT&T for anything when I can help it.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...