AT&T becomes first carrier to block robocalls by default

In advance of tomorrow’s Federal Communications Commission annual summit, which this year will focus on the SHAKEN/STIR protocols and their use to combat robocalling, AT&T has said it will add automatic robocall-blocking technology to its customers’ accounts. And, it says it won’t charge its customers for the service.

New AT&T Mobility consumer lines will come with the anti-robocall service, and existing AT&T customers also will have it automatically added to their accounts over the coming months. The service will be offered as an expansion of AT&T’s Call Protect program.

The carrier says its ability to implement the anti-robocall technology is made possible by a June ruling at the FCC. “It clarifies that call-blocking tools may be offered by phone service providers on an ‘opt out’ basis,” said AT&T in a statement. “That means we can automatically provide you the service unless you decline, instead of first asking you to download an app or go to your settings to ‘opt in.’”

RELATED: FCC gives telcos the authority to block robocalls

At its June 6 meeting when the FCC cleared the way for carriers to automatically block robocalls, there was some concern expressed that carriers might charge for the service. Commissioner Rosenworcel voted for the order, but she voiced dissent, saying, “There is nothing in our decision today that prevents carriers from charging consumers with this blocking technology. I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers.”

AT&T says it will not charge for the service. But, there’s nothing stopping it from doing so in the future.

The carrier says it will notify its customers by text message when the service has been added. Those customers who want the service immediately can download AT&T Call Protect as an app, or by going into their account settings on myAT&T and turning it on. Landline customers can also go to their account settings at myAT&T and turn on the anti-robocall service.

Hiya, the company whose algorithms support AT&T’s Call Protect, recently issued a robocall report, which shows that robocalls grew to 25.3 billion in the first half of 2019, up 128% compared to the same period last year and nearly reaching the 26.3 billion robocalls Americans received in all of 2019.

Jonathan Nelson, director of product management at Hiya, will be speaking on a panel at the FCC summit, addressing how the anti-robocall technology will impact what consumers see on their phones. “The first change you'll see is some phone calls coming through with a mark assuring the call isn't spoofed: a checkmark and a message like ‘verified number’ or similar,” said Nelson in an email to FierceWireless. “However, some estimates put as few as 30% of calls will be able to support this feature. As spam services use STIR/SHAKEN in the background, more illegal calls will be caught.