Twelve years ago, the federal government took aim at pesky telemarketers whose annoying phone calls interrupted dinnertime conversations everywhere. The result was the Do-Not-Call list — a national registry that, if you signed up, told telemarketers they couldn't contact you.
Now the Federal Communications Commission wants to roll out additional measures to meet a new flood of telemarketing complaints. The agency says it now gets thousands of angry letters and calls every month about abusive marketing, which last year added up to more than 215,000 complaints from the public.
Under the new rules, which FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed to his fellow commissioners Wednesday, you'll be allowed to opt out of telemarketing calls with as little as a verbal order not to call again. That might sound like an obvious step. But many who've been hit by unwanted calls can't find relief without filling out complicated forms or jumping through other hoops, said a senior FCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.
Other steps are designed to thwart robocalls and automated dialing. One measure encourages phone carriers to adopt off-the-shelf products that can block robocalls automatically and offer them to consumers as a service. That proposal comes after phone companies and 39 attorneys general asked the FCC whether offering the technology was legal.
Another more clearly defines what auto-dialing technology is so that telemarketers can't squirm out of obeying the regulations. And if you switch your phone number, telemarketers will only be allowed to call your new number once — giving you the chance to tell them to buzz off.
The proposals could take effect as soon as June 18, when the FCC will vote on whether to approve them. If they pass, they'll represent the answer to nearly two dozen formal petitions for the FCC to act against telemarketers.
There are some unresolved questions, such as whether carriers would be allowed to charge a fee for the call-blocking service. But this could give consumers a new weapon against spammy marketers.
"Consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive," said Wheeler in a blog post. "And the FCC is moving to enforce those rights and protect consumers against robocalls, spam texts, and telemarketing."