AT&T this week announced that it will by default block fraud robocalls and suspected "spam-call alerts" for customers at "no charge". But to actually block all spam calls automatically, customers will still need to pay $4 a month.
AT&T said the change was an expansion of its existing AT&T Call Protect service, which has a free version and paid-for version with more blocking features.
The carrier attributed the expansion of AT&T Call Protect to the FCC's June ruling, which cleared carriers to block nuisance robocalls by default, so that customers need to opt out rather than opt-in to call blocking services.
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FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who's championed the war on robocalls, positioned it as a major win for consumers. However, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel criticized the new rules because they didn't prevent carriers from charging for blocking services.
"I think robocall solutions should be free to consumers. Full stop. I do not think that this agency should pat itself on the back for its efforts to reduce robocalls and then tell consumers to pay up," said Rosenworcel.
As spotted by Ars Technica, AT&T's new default-on free robocall blocking service only includes "automatic fraud blocking and suspected spam-call alerts" but won't automatically block spam calls.
AT&T told the publication that spam calls may be considered a "nuisance" by customers but that definition is subjective.
The free version rolling out to millions of users does allow users to block spam calls, however users need to add the unwanted numbers themselves.
The feature available in the paid-for version of AT&T Call Protect that would automatically address spam calls is called "Custom Call Controls", which AT&T's website says "gives you the control to allow, send to voicemail, or block calls by entire categories."
AT&T was the first major US carrier to announce the FCC's default robocall blocking service.
"The FCC has been a tremendous partner in the war on robocalls," said Joan Marsh, executive vice president of regulatory & state external affairs for AT&T.
"The Commission's recent action builds on a years-long effort to enable broader adoption of call-blocking tools and allow providers to better protect their customers and networks. AT&T remains committed to working with our government and industry partners in the ongoing battle against unwanted and illegal robocalls."