US seeks new tools to counter unrelenting wave of robocalls

FILE - In this May 4, 2018, file photo a man talks on the phone in a hallway adorned with the palm tree-printed wallpaper at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. U.S. regulators are proposing new measures intended to thwThe Associated Press
FILE - In this May 4, 2018, file photo a man talks on the phone in a hallway adorned with the palm tree-printed wallpaper at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. U.S. regulators are proposing new measures intended to thwart billions of annoying robocalls received by Americans each year. The rising volume of unwanted calls in the last few years has created pressure on Congress, regulators and phone companies to do something to act. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

U.S. regulators are proposing new tools to counter the unrelenting waves of robocalls received each year in America.

The rising volume of calls in the last few years has created pressure on Congress, regulators and phone companies to act.

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it will vote in June on whether to allow to carriers block spam calls by default, which should mean that more spam calls are blocked.

Right now, customers have to take the extra step of requesting tools from their carriers or downloading apps from other companies to help them weed out most unwanted calls.

The agency won't require carriers to provide such services, though, or mandate that the tools offered are free. Today, some of these apps cost extra money, others are free.

"We certainly are encouraging companies to offer this for free," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. He said he anticipates that they won't charge extra because it would cost less than the headache of dealing with robocalls and customer complaints about them today.

The agency also said Wednesday it's making clear that carriers can let customers come up with lists of numbers that they will permit to call them. That means a customer could tell his or her phone company, I only want people whose numbers I have in my phone to be allowed to get through.

"There is no doubt that this can only help, that it's a good thing. My questions go to how much it helps," said Margot Saunders, senior counsel for the National Consumer Law Center and an expert on robocalls.

She noted that consumers get plenty of calls that are unwanted but are not scams, like those from telemarketers of legitimate companies and debt collectors. It's unclear how well calls like that would be kept away from consumers under the new proposal, she said.

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