The strike force on robo-calls won't just involve AT&T, but also potentially other wireless carriers, cellphone manufacturers and software developers. Its objective? To come up with ways to make sure marketers and other robo-callers can't get around regulations and blacklists aimed at blocking those calls.
The big trick here is developing technology that can better identify when a call is coming from a suspect source before a consumer answers the phone. As part of the effort, AT&T said in a blog post that the strike force plans to craft a "Do Not Originate" list — which sounds a lot like a "Do Not Call" list that simply contains a list of numbers known to generate robo-calls. AT&T also vowed to embrace newer caller ID standards that could also help cut down on phone spam.
Although federal regulators last year cleared the way for carriers like AT&T to offer call-blocking services, in some cases those services charge a fee to consumers. That's not good enough, Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in a blog post last week.
"I have sent letters to the CEOs of major wireless and wireline phone companies calling on them to offer call-blocking services to their customers now — at no cost to you," Wheeler wrote. "Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive."
The FCC receives thousands of consumer complaints about robo-calls every year. The issue accounts for the largest category of FCC complaints, and the agency now publishes data on every public complaint it receives about robo-calls to name and shame the callers. But even a quick look at the data shows it's not easy to track down the true origins of a particular robo-call.
Other high-profile officials have been putting pressure on telecom companies to up their game, too. Earlier this month, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) urged carriers to do more to fight automated calls and texts by setting up a database that tracks reassigned numbers. Keeping track of when a number has been transferred to another customer would help prevent unwitting new customers from being ambushed by robo-calls that the previous user of the phone number had opted in to receive, the senators said.