Advocacy Group Could Be Potential Ally For ARM Industry in Worrying About FCC’s Call Blocking Proposal

A consumer advocacy is speaking out and expressing concerns about call blocking services that phone carriers may soon have the power to start offering without requiring consumers to opt in to receive them. In this respect, the credit and collection industry may have found a potential ally in worrying that the call blocking service may have unintended consequences.

The advocacy is concerned about the additional expenses that consumers may see on their cell phone bills as a result of the services, without first being able to determine how useful and successful the call blocking is at keeping robocalls from being connected.

Public Knowledge, an internet and telecommunications consumer advocacy group, expressed its concerns a day after the Federal Communications Commission announced the proposal of a declaratory ruling that would give phone companies the block “unwanted” calls from being connected to consumers and allow consumers to block calls from individuals who are not on their contact list.

“The big question here is who pays for this, and how much?,” asked Harold Feld, Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge. “This is particularly important on an opt-out plan, given that the Commission has given the carriers enormous discretion in how to contact customers and the general difficulties customers have in figuring out their bills. Given that customers will also have no idea how effective this will be, there need to be some safeguards here.

“For example, let’s say a carrier charges $10 a month for the new service. The subscriber has no way to know how good the service is and so can’t make any determination about whether it’s worth it. Indeed, if the service works poorly, it may end up blocking calls the subscriber wants and letting robocalls through. But whatever happens, the subscriber is automatically on the hook for $10 per month until they find out they are even enrolled in this new program.

“At a minimum, carriers that use opt-out should be required to offer the service free for some trial period. Even better would be a free trial period followed by a need to opt-in for a paid service. This is a common business model for apps and subscription services, so consumers are quite used to it by now. This would also give the carrier incentive to make a real effort to contact the consumer, rather than hide the ball as a line charge somewhere on the bill.”

The credit and collection industry is concerned that call blocking also keeps legitimate calls — such as those from debt collectors — from being connected to individuals with unpaid debts. ACA International, for example, has supported regulatory and legislative efforts to thwart illegal robocalls, but has consistently sought to ensure that legitimate calls are not inadvertently rounded up and blocked as well.

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