Maine’s attorney general on Wednesday joined counterparts in 44 other states in a national campaign to pressure the country’s leading telecommunications companies to offer their customers phone technology that can block unwanted robocalls.

Attorney General Janet Mills signed a letter that was sent to the chief executives of AT&T Inc., Sprint Corp., Verizon Communications, T-Mobile USA and CenturyLink Inc.

In the letter, dated July 22, the attorneys general say that while their consumer-protection divisions attempt to prosecute those who violate state and federal laws intended to prevent robocalls, their enforcement efforts alone cannot stop the problem.

“The better solution is to stop intrusive calls before they ever reach the consumer. To that end, we call on you to take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the rule clarification recently adopted by the Federal Communications Commission and offer call blocking technology to your consumers,” the letter says.

A robocall is an automated telephone call that delivers a recorded message, typically on behalf of a political party or telemarketing company. Some robocalls simulate those from a live caller. The effort to block calls also affects text messages and automated and live calls from telemarketers.

The letter comes two years after representatives from the U.S. Telecom Association and Cellular Telephone Industries Association told a congressional committee that call-blocking technology violates federal law. That ended discussion on the issue until September 2014, when 39 attorneys general asked the FCC to clarify the issue.

On June 18, the FCC issued its ruling, which said that federal law does not prohibit telecommunication service providers from offering, at a customer’s request, services that would allow their telephones to block unwanted robocalls, scam text messages and calls from telemarketers.

“Every year, our offices are flooded with consumer complaints pleading for a solution to stop intrusive robocalls. Your organizations are now poised to offer your customers the help they need. We urge you to act without delay,” the attorneys general said.

Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said telephone scams ranging from one involving the Internal Revenue Service to scams involving power companies are among the top reported complaints to the state’s Consumer Protection Division. Feeley said in an email that the scams are typically phone-based, involving robocalls or live callers.

“The FCC has made it clear that phone companies can assist us in our fight against unwanted, annoying and sometimes expensive calls,” Mills said in a press release. “We will continue to press these phone carriers to give their customers what they have been asking for – a way to stop these calls before they ever come through.”

There is also a national petition drive underway. The campaign, EndRobocalls.org, is being organized by the Consumers Union. The petition demands that telecommunications companies provide free call-blocking tools to prevent unwanted robocalls from reaching a ephone.

The petition states that “robocallers invade our homes and privacy. They circumvent the Do Not Call list. And they cost us real money – an estimated $350 million a year is lost to phone scams.”

Consumers Union is the policy and action division of Consumer Reports. It works with activists to pass consumer protection laws in states and in Congress.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


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