The agency said it wanted to dispel an impression that call blocking would be a violation of its rules, which generally ensure calls are completed.
The FCC’s proposed changes “are not enough. They’re not a magic bullet,” said Margot Saunders, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.
The FCC is “nibbling around the edges” of the problem, Saunders said. She added that the agency should ensure that call-placing equipment remains covered by the law that requires consent for calls, despite an appeals court ruling last year. Judges tossed out earlier FCC regulations, saying the FCC’s language was too broad and could be construed to prohibit calls from any smartphone. The agency is considering its reaction.
Consumer Reports in an emailed statement said the FCC had taken “constructive steps.”
“There is still much more work to be done — including getting phone companies to implement anti-robocall technology, and ensuring that this service is provided to consumers free of charge,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports. “The FCC also needs to issue strong rules clarifying the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s coverage, to stop robocallers from attempting to evade it.”
International scam calls may present a challenge because foreign operators’ equipment won’t be as helpful in labeling calls as legitimate or not, said Alex Quilici, chief executive officer of YouMail.
“A lot of international calls, it’s going to be difficult to tell—is this spam, or a scam, or is it real?” he said.
Verizon Communications Inc. in a statement called the FCC vote “welcome news.”
“We intend to take advantage of the new flexibility the FCC is giving us,” Verizon Executive Vice President Ronan Dunne said in the statement.
Business groups cautioned that the call blocking may not distinguish illegal telemarketing and scams from legitimate calls placed once they have consent from a subscriber.
The ruling could block legitimate businesses, including credit unions, from contacting their members, the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions said.
“In the event of fraud or a data breach, consumers could be left in the dark for days,” Carrie Hunt, executive vice president with the credit union group, said in an emailed statement.
Phone companies may be reluctant to put in place aggressive call-blocking for fear of interfering with needed or wanted calls, said YouMail’s Quilici. He raised the example of an improperly blocked call from a pharmacy.
“Grandma doesn’t get her prescription and something bad happens to her—that’s catastrophic,” Quilici said.