Will Robocalls Finally Be Banned? What You Need to Know

Hate those pesky spam calls? Don't we all. But there hasn't been much to do about them other than decline any sketchy numbers -- until now.

Credit: Shutterstock

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to allow wireless carriers to block spam calls by default, rather than providing it as an opt-in service. Don't worry -- if you really fancy the sound of a robot's voice, carriers still have to allow you to opt out.

And if you want a higher level of blocking, carriers are also now permitted to block any number that's not on a list of approved numbers.

I, and many folks I know, have been using a mess of robocall-blocking apps for the past few years, with little success. It would certainly be nice if my carrier blocked the calls for me by default, especially since I have no idea if it currently offers an opt-in service or how I would go about opting in.

But there's a catch: You may have to pay more.

Will you have to pay to block robocalls?

The decision doesn't require carriers to provide the service for free. Some FCC commissioners weren't happy with this part of the plan.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a (partially) dissenting statement that "I do not think that this agency should pat itself on the back for its efforts to reduce robocalls and then tell customers to pay up. They are already paying the price -- in scams flooding our phone lines; wasted time responding to false and fraudulent calls offering us what we did not ask for, do not want, and do not need; and a growing distrust in our most basic communications."

"I want it to stop. But I do not believe I should have to pay for that privilege. I am disappointed that for all our efforts to support new blocking technology, we couldn't muster up the courage to do what consumers want most--stop robocalls and do it for free."

The fact that carriers are permitted to charge for the service doesn't mean they will. It's possible that we'll see tiers of plans that block more as you pay more.

But I'll admit that even a small fee makes the call-blocking service much less appealing. After all, I certainly hate robocalls. But I don't think declining a call a few times a day is such a nuance that I'd shell out more than a few bucks to end it.

Apple and Google offer alternatives

Smartphone makers are lending a helping hand as well. For instance, you'll be able to send unknown callers directly to voicemail in Apple's upcoming iOS 13.

Last year Google introduced a Call Screen feature for the Pixel 3 that can have Google Assistant answer the phone for you and transcribe calls in real time. The feature has since become available for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL as well as the newer Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL.

On the other hand, robocalls do cause serious problems for some workers. For example, a surgeon told the New York Times that he once declined an unrecognized number, figuring it was a robocall, that turned out to be an important call from another doctor about patient care. With stakes that high, surely any step towards eradicating robocalls is a good one, if an incomplete one. 

Monica Chin is a writer at The Verge, covering computers. Previously, she was a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she wrote about everything from artificial intelligence to social media and the internet of things to. She had a particular focus on smart home, reviewing multiple devices. In her downtime, you can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter.