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Radio News: Who is to blame for all the robocalls?

May 01, 2022 11:33 pm

Aaron Mak reports for Slate about spam robocalls. Do you remember the National Do Not Call Registry beginning in 2003? Do you remember the last time you received an automated phone message? Do you remember the last time you read about some robocall scam targeting local seniors? The federal government has definitely not eliminated the scourge of robocalls. In March, there were 4.3 billion robocalls made in the United States, according to the spam-blocking company YouMail. There has been a lot of online finger-pointing lately at Ajit Pai, the industry-friendly chair of the Federal Communications Commission during the Trump administration. Pai did not support a 2015 anti-robocalling rule from the Obama-era FCC that would have expanded the definition of an “autodialer” to include any device that had the capacity to make robocalls, even if they weren't modified to do so. The plan passed without Pai's support, but in 2018 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck it down, saying it was too broad. Pai did not appeal the decision, but celebrated, describing the 2015 rule as “yet another example of the prior FCC’s disregard for the law and regulatory overreach.” But Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, argues the court decision did not lead to record numbers of robocalls. At play, she said, “were very esoteric issues that had much more to do with the legality of non-scammers like debt collectors.... Chairman Pai wasn’t particularly aggressive, but you can’t lay the problem at his door,” said Saunders. “There is no proceeding that he failed to appeal that would have made the difference in this, in my opinion.” Saunders instead says phone calls now go through multiple providers, instead of just one, which makes stopping phone scams more difficult. Mak ends the story asking Saunders if there is any one person who could be blamed for so many robocalls now, and she replied, “Alexander Graham Bell.” Read more about this story in Slate.

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