Robocalls by Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, MN

The Federal Communications Commission’s new efforts to deter robocalls are good, but should have been stronger.

The commission unanimously approved plans last week to allow carriers to block unwanted calls to landlines and cell phones. Using analytics, phone companies can identify robocall schemes on the basis of high volumes of short calls. The new rule allows them to cut off the calls automatically.

Robocalls are a nuisance to all and a menace to the gullible. YouMail, a call-blocking service, tallied 48 billion robocalls in the U.S. last year, Bloomberg reports. Oklahomans registered more than 41,000 robocall complaints to the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, according to figures analyzed by valuepenguin.com.

The calls usually come at the most inconvenient times and always seem to be selling something we don’t want, can’t use, can’t afford or would never get if we were to bite.

Consumer Reports says a variety of scams come at us through the telephone. Last year, the FCC fined Adrian Abramovich $120 million for a scheme to offer fabulous travel deals only to switch consumers to call centers that would try to sell Mexican timeshare packages.

Most of us know not to do business with an unknown pitchman who barges in at dinner time, but that doesn’t make it any less of an irritant.

“If there is one thing in our country right now that unites Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, socialists and libertarians, vegetarians and carnivores, Ohio State and Michigan fans, it is that they are sick and tired of being bombarded by unwanted robocalls,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We hear you, and we are on your side.”

Welcome as the new rules are, they are permissive, not mandating: They don’t require phone companies to do anything. If carriers do act, they are allowed to charge their customers for the service, which feels a bit like extortion. Pay up, or we’ll sic the robocallers on Grandma.

A competitive marketplace may well drive the companies to do the right thing for free, but the FCC should have required it. We already pay for the phone, why should we also have to pay to prevent it from becoming the tool of pests and financial predators?

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