When we revisited our AT&T Uverse plan, my husband and I decided to cut the landline we have had for over 20 years. We chose this route because we didn’t want to spend $20/month for robocalls that always rang. The pitches were wide-ranging: Solar panels, timeshares, carpet cleaning. My favorites were the “IRS agents” with foreign accents who were going to jail me for tax fraud.

Now, AT&T will soon become the first U.S. carrier to automatically block robocalls following an FCC ruling that enabled the company to expand its efforts to fight back against spam callers.

The company said that it will initiate the service automatically “over the coming months” and that customers will receive a text message notifying them it has been activated. New AT&T customers will have the service initiated by default and can opt out.

The wireless carrier is able to expand its Call Protect service because of a June ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that allows carriers to provide call blocking on an “opt-out” basis, the company said.

“The commission’s recent action builds on a years-long effort to enable broader adoption of call-blocking tools and allow providers to better protect their customers and networks,” the company said in a statement. “AT&T remains committed to working with our government and industry partners in the ongoing battle against unwanted and illegal robocalls.”

Industry data show that more than 4.3 billion robocalls, both legal and illegal, were placed last month.

Robocall blocking uses algorithms and network scanning to identify unwanted calls, similar to how email providers scan for spam messages.
AT&T’s service will attempt to block fraudulent calls and alert customers when a call may be spam. It will be available on all new lines and added in the coming months to existing customer lines. Those customers will be notified by text when the service is active.

The company already provided call blocking to mobile customers who downloaded the AT&T Call Protect app or opted in via their account settings. Landline customers had also been able to opt in. Now, AT&T customers will only have to opt out via their account settings if they don’t wish to have calls blocked.

If you thought the number of robocalls had increased recently, you would be right.

A recent report from First Orion, a company focused on consumer protection against the unwanted calls, found that scam calls jumped to nearly 30 percent of all calls in 2018, up from 3.7 percent the prior year. Robocalls are expected to increase to 44.6 percent of all calls in 2019, the firm projected.

The FCC said 60 percent of the complaints it receives each year are due to robocalls. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said they were working to “stop the scourge of illegal robocalls.”

One Democratic presidential candidate has a plan to end robocalls. In perhaps one of the most bipartisan proposals that has been announced this season, entrepreneur Andrew Yang has this plan:

As President, I will initiate a robo-calling text line. If you receive a robo-call that you feel was a waste of your time, simply forward the number that called you to our robo-call investigations line (800-ROBOCAL). The FCC will follow up with the company that called you. If the FCC receives numerous complaints about a particular company, they will issue significant fines. This will quickly discourage companies from adopting marketing tactics that customers find unpleasant or unwelcome.