Phone Companies Could Stop Robocalls — They’re Just Not Doing It

The head of the Federal Communications Commission says robocalls and telemarketing produce more consumer complaints than any other telecom issue, and he wants phone companies to do something about it.

But don't hold your breath. Experts say it's technically feasible for phone companies to crack down on robocalls, but it's unlikely the carriers will take on the necessary effort and expense.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a recent blog post that he's written to the heads of all the major landline and wireless companies instructing them to step up their game and offer customers free call-blocking services. He's also demanding that they come up with "concrete, actionable solutions" within 30 days.

And what do phone companies say? Not much.

I reached out to every leading phone-service provider this week asking what technologies or initiatives they have in the works that would provide customers with meaningful protection from robocalls.

In response, most said only that they're studying Wheeler's remarks or steered me toward industry groups such as CTIA-the Wireless Assn., which represents mobile-communications firms.

CTIA emailed me a statement from a senior vice president, Tom Power, saying that "unwanted calls and texts are a consumer issue the wireless industry works hard to address and we look forward to working with the FCC to help address this challenge together."

How's that for a call to arms?

"The carriers are always big on promises and self-regulation, but it doesn't normally work that way," said Christine Mailloux, staff attorney with the Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco advocacy group. "Even if they have the ability to put their foot down and eliminate robocalls, they'll probably have to be pushed harder to do it."

Only one leading phone company promptly rose to the FCC's challenge -- sort of. AT&T said this week that the company's chief executive, Randall Stephenson, will lead a newly...

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