The Federal Communications Commission plans to take steps to combat robocalls and spam text messages that have long irked consumers.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled a proposal Wednesday that would make it easier for consumers to demand that telemarketers stop contacting them. Under the proposal, consumers could withdraw their consent to be contacted in any "reasonable" way, such as asking on the phone. Previously, some telemarketers had demanded that consumers send in a written form to be removed from their list.
According to the FCC, it received more than 215,000 complaints about unwanted calls and texts in 2014, making it the top consumer complaint to the agency.
The FCC also plans to clarify that phone companies can offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers. Companies had been hesitant about offering the services, fearing they could run afoul of other FCC rules. The proposal also would expand the FCC's definition of an "autodialer" used for robocalls, and restrict calls to phone numbers that have have been reassigned to a new subscriber.
At the same time, the FCC plans to loosen its robocalling rules in certain cases, such as allowing free calls or texts for possible fraud on bank accounts or a reminder to refill medication.
In a statement, Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachussetts Democrat, said he appreciates the FCC's efforts to help consumers block robocalls, but he worried that the proposed exemptions "will result in an increase in unwanted calls and texts to consumers without their consent."
CTIA-the Wireless Association and USTelecom, lobbying associations for the phone companies, said they are reviewing the FCC's proposal, and emphasized that they want to help consumers avoid unwanted calls.
The rules are set for a vote June 18, and will need to receive approval from a majority of the five commissioners.
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