The head of the Federal Communications Commission circulated a proposal Wednesday designed to allow consumers to block unwanted telemarketing calls and spam text messages.
Aaron Foss, founder of Mount Sinai-based Nomorobo, a small company that blocks telemarketing calls, thinks the proposal could be a breakthrough for consumers -- and for his nearly 2-year-old startup company.
Key to the FCC chairman's plan is making it clear that phone carriers can legally offer blocking services -- so-called robo-blocking technology that could help people stop the unwanted calls.
"We are giving the green light for robocall-blocking technology," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post on the commission website.
Allowing call-blocking technology "is fantastic for consumers, and it's fantastic for Nomorobo," said Foss, who in January met with FCC officials to talk about robocall blocking.
Phone companies have said that they worry that automatic call-blocking might run afoul of laws requiring them to connect phone calls. The issue, according to Foss, is that the laws seek to prevent anti-competitive behavior by phone companies -- such as not completing calls placed through a competitor.
Dozens of state attorneys general have asked the FCC to weigh in on whether blocking robocalls might violate any telecommunications statutes. Phone companies have asked for clarity on the issue, too.
Wheeler made clear in his blog post that the technology can be offered without violating the rules. "The FCC wants to make it clear: telephone companies can -- and in fact should -- offer consumers robocall-blocking tools," he said.
Wheeler's proposal also aims to make it easier for consumers to say "no" to robocalls and texts. People wouldn't have to fill out a form or jump through lots of hoops to get the calls and texts to stop. "Any reasonable way of saying 'no' is allowed," said Wheeler.
Last year the FCC received more than 215,000 complaints related to unwanted and intrusive calls and texts.
Foss said the proposal, which will be voted on June 18 at a commission meeting, could open doors for Nomorobo, of which he is the only employee. One possibility would be to license his list of telemarketers to telephone companies. "I have an almost two-year head start" in creating a database of telemarketers to block, Foss said.
-- With Victor Ocasio