AT&T Falsely Blames The FCC For Company's Failure To Block Annoying Robocalls

from the nice-tap-dance dept

Last year, the FCC made it abundantly clear in an announcement (pdf) that it was giving the green light to carriers that wanted to offer consumers robocall blocking technologies. Numerous companies like Time Warner Cable and Verizon quickly complied, integrating services like Nomorobo in order to help consumers block annoying telemarketers from disrupting dinner time. Independent California ISP Sonic even went so far as to praise the FCC in a blog post, welcoming the FCC's clarification that offering call blocking technology won't violate call-completion rules.

Then there's AT&T.

In an interesting back and forth with the Dallas Morning News, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson joins us plebeians in complaining about robocalls, the day after Consumer's Union delivered a petition to the CEO with more than 600,000 consumers urging AT&T action. But when asked why AT&T isn't following other companies in the industry and actually doing something about it, the CEO first tried to tap dance around the question, before ultimately trying to blame the FCC for the company's own inaction:
"But didn’t the FCC just give you that permission last year for phone companies to install stricter call-blocking services?

“There will be rules around this,” Stephenson said. “We don’t go in and just start discriminately blocking calls going to people without their permission, without the appropriate authority. I don’t want to be on the front page because we blocked somebody’s call, if it was a life-saving call of some kind, right?"
Right, except that's bullshit. Again, the FCC made it perfectly clear that offering call-blocking services is absolutely no problem. When pressed further by the Consumerist as to why AT&T isn't helping consumers out, a spokesman tries to claim that the technology just doesn't exist to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate calls:
"Last year, the FCC gave us authority to implement technology to allow consumer-initiated robocall blocking. However, there are no technologies currently available that can accurately distinguish illegal robocalls from legitimate calls, which could include emergency calls,” reads the statement.

“In fact, many robocallers even spoof legitimate phone numbers, making it even more challenging. As a matter of law, we don’t have permission to block legitimate calls – that is a violation of the Communications Act. We’re continuing our work to find a solution that can identify illegal robocalls 100% of the time. Until then, we cannot risk blocking legitimate calls from consumers. But in the interim, although not a perfect solution, consumers can use apps like Nomorobo to block these calls."
Again though: bullshit. One, this hasn't been a problem for any other large company; companies like Time Warner Cable and Verizon that have offered such services face no such problems. AT&T also forgets to mention that it already offers a call-blocking service for landline customers (to the tune of an extra $8.50 per month) with apparently no such issues. And of course, given that AT&T was the one that effectively made mouseprint binding arbitration a permanent fixture in America, annoyed consumers wouldn't be able to sue AT&T anyway:
"Of course, even if AT&T screwed up and deployed a horrible call-blocker that caused you to miss only important calls, you couldn’t sue the company. The 2011 Supreme Court ruling in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion upheld the use of forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans in customer contracts. So not only can’t you take AT&T to court if it breaks the law, you can’t enter into a group arbitration with other AT&T customers."
Caring about the customer in this way just isn't in AT&T's corporate DNA. Remember, this is a company in the last few years that has been fined for ripping off programs for low-income families, settled a lawsuit for helping scammers rip off IP relay services for the hearing impaired, and paid an $18 million settlement to the government after it was found to be making bills intentionally harder to understand to help crammers. This isn't the kind of company to give a damn whether robocall blocking technology is blocking legitimate calls, unless there's some undisclosed financial and marketing/robocall relationships at play that benefit AT&T.

Filed Under: call completion, fcc, randall stephenson, robocalls
Companies: at&t


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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 2 Jun 2016 @ 11:56pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "The same telephone number can change from being a sleazy robocaller to a legitimate citizen or business. "

    I would assume that any remotely effective system would take in more criteria than just the phone number. Frequency of calls, length of calls, other patterns, etc. Merely blocking a phone number would be as bad as blocking an IP address - ineffective and too blunt an instrument.

    "...which is precisely Techdirt's position WRT copyright infringement detection algorithms: the fact that we see so many examples of false positives (even if the accuracy rate may be high overall) demonstrates that it doesn't work well enough to be worth using."

    Not really. The position is more that it doesn't work for the intended result (piracy is still widespread no matter how much they block) and the unintended consequences are not acceptable.

    Unless the system is so poorly implemented that friends & family are failing to get through to the recipient, I don't see an analogous situation happening here. People wanting to block robocalls won't mind if other cold calling tactics also don't get through. It's just not comparable to a situation where the **AAs are literally asking for magic, and real negative consequences hit innocent 3rd parties all the time.

    "And if a legitimate company tried to call you on legitimate business and it never got through... how would you know?"

    Hopefully there would be some notification to the business that the call was being blocked (automated message, distinct error tone, whatever). They would complain, and adjustments would be made to the system to allow the call and try to prevent it in the future. No system is going to be 100% perfect, but it's better to err on the side of the consumer than the side of the businesses who caused the problem in the first place.

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