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FCC commissioner: Carriers' plans for blocking robocalls are 'far from clear'

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission's Geoffrey Starks said July 12 that it remains unclear what types of plans most U.S. carriers have to roll out free call-blocking services by default to consumers, after receiving responses from the companies on their robocall blocking efforts.

In June, the FCC voted to assert that voice service providers have the authority to block calls by default based on call analytics that target unwanted calls, as long as customers are informed of the practice and have the ability to opt out. While the commission said it expects the services to be offered to consumers for free, implementation of these services is not mandatory, and the June item does not mandate that providers offer this service for free.

Starks, a Democratic commissioner, reached out to 14 major phone and voice service providers seeking information about their expected timelines for implementing default call-blocking services, the types of services they intend to provide, and whether they intend to offer those for free to consumers.

After hearing back this week, Starks said that the scope of the plans remains largely unclear.

"The Commission spoke clearly: we expect opt-out call blocking services to be offered to consumers for free," said Starks in a statement July 12. "Reviewing the substance of these responses, by and large, carriers' plans for these services are far from clear."

Some carriers, such as AT&T Inc., T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said they are already offering certain call-blocking services for free.

CenturyLink Inc., which said it does offer some free call-blocking services to its bundled customers, told the commissioner that it is "not in the public interest to preclude the use of line-item charges" for blocking services.

Starks added in his statement that if the commission ultimately finds that carriers are acting contrary to expectations, it will commence a rulemaking.

"I expect to be updated by carriers as progress is made on offering free call blocking services and recommend that carriers not stop until the job is finished," said Starks.