Considering all of its blather about customer service, the telecommunications industry has been rather reluctant to do anything about robocalls, perhaps the most hated of modern annoyances.
But after prodding from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), AT&T has agreed to lead an effort to limit the calls using technology that will use a "Do Not Originate" list identifying suspicious calls originated outside the United States.
AT&T had been arguing that it didn't have the legal authority to block robocalls, even though the FCC last year had clearly said the industry had its permission to do just that.
Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided to try again, writing to AT&T and other major carriers urging them to "offer call-blocking services to their customers now -- at no cost."
A few days later, AT&T said in a blog post that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson would head up an industry task force to "accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions to abate the proliferation of robocalls and to make recommendations to the FCC on the role government can play in this battle."
In other words, don't look for anything to happen right away. Wheeler, however, took it as a sign that things may at last be starting to move.
“I applaud AT&T for committing to make robocall-blocking technology available to its customers, as I requested in a letter to the company last week," Wheeler said in a statement and said he hoped to see recommendations in 60 days.
"Since giving consumers meaningful control over the calls and texts they receive will require collective action by the industry, I am gratified that AT&T will lead an industry strike force to develop an action plan for providing consumers with robust robocall-blocking solutions. ... I strongly urge industry participants to join the effort and to produce conclusions within 60 days.”
Wheeler also wrote to "intermediary carriers," the companies that connect robocallers to the consumer's phone company, reminding them of their responsibility to help facilitate the offering of blocking technologies.
Last summer, the FCC made clear that there are no legal obstacles to carriers offering consumers robocall-blocking services, the agency noted, adding that some IP and mobile phone networks are already doing just that.
"The Commission is committed to doing everything it can to further empower consumers to control unwanted calls and texts," the FCC said.