Telecom companies big and small have reached an agreement with 51 attorneys general to block illegal robocalls from reaching customers' phones.
Attorneys general from North Carolina, New Hampshire and Arkansas announced the deal with 12 phone companies, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, in a joint news conference Thursday.
Carriers that have signed on to the agreement pledge to take measures to counter the wave of spam robocalls "at no cost to the customers." The measures, dubbed the Robocalls Principles, includes implementing technology at the network level to block calls in the first place and offer customers call-blocking and phone number authentication tools.
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"This is a significant step forward towards protecting people in our states,"said N.H. Attorney General Gordon.
Gordon said the Robocalls Principles also includes enforcement efforts requiring that carriers be able to trace the origin of calls, verify callers, identify robocallers and kick those deemed illegal off of their network.
The other carriers who have pledged to take on robocalls are Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Charter, Frontier Communications, U.S. Cellular and Windstream Holdings.
The agreement doesn't have a timeline.
Robocalls have increased as cheap software makes it easy to make mass calls. Scammers don't care if you've added your number to the government's Do Not Call list, and enforcement is negligible.
The The Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Andrew Smith said the agency receives 3.8 billion complaints a year, averaging more than 10,000 a day. But, Smith notes "that's just a drop in the bucket," since most people don't file an official complaint.
In fact, according to call-blocker YouMail, U.S. phones receive 5 billion robocalls per month.
"No single issue comes as close to comparing, in regards to the sheer volume of complaints we receive, than that of robocalls," said MacDonald.
The rise in debt collectors, telemarketers and, most worrisome, fraudsters ringing up consumers' phones have led the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to push phone companies to do more. The companies have been slow to act against such automated calls on their own.
Earlier this month, federal regulators voted to give phones companies the right to block unwanted calls without getting customers' permission first. The FCC's move was the first step in helping make call-blocking widespread and rescuing consumers from the surge of annoying robocalls.
The FTC said if customers answer the phone and hear a recorded message instead of a live person, it's a robocall. The agency said the best defense against robocalls is to block the number on your cellphone or install a call-blocking device on your landline. The FTC also urged customers to report unwanted calls to FTC.gov/complaint.