By David Shepardson / Reuters
August 19, 2016

(WASHINGTON) – More than 30 major technology companies are joining the U.S. government to crack down on automated, prerecorded telephone calls that regulators have labeled a “scourge.”

AT&T Inc, Google parent Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Comcast Corp are among the members of the “Robocall Strike Force,” which will work with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The group was holding its first meeting with the FCC on Friday.

The strike force will report to the commission by Oct. 19 on “concrete plans to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions,” said AT&T Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson, who is chairing the group.

The group hopes to put in place Caller ID verification standards that would help block calls from spoofed phone numbers and to consider a “Do Not Originate” list that would block spoofers from impersonating specific phone numbers from governments, banks or others.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in July urged major companies to take new action to block robocalls, which often come from telemarketers or scam artists.

“This scourge must stop,” Wheeler said on Friday, calling robocalls the No. 1 complaint from consumers.

Wheeler has said robocalls continue “due in large part to industry inaction.”

“The bad guys are beating the good guys with technology,” Wheeler said.

Stephenson emphasized “the breadth and complexity” of the robocall problem.

“This is going to require more than individual company initiatives and one-off blocking apps,” Stephenson said. “Robocallers are a formidable adversary, notoriously hard to stop.”

The FCC does not require phone providers to offer robocall blocking and filtering but has strongly encouraged providers to offer those services at no charge to consumers.

The strike force brings together carriers, device makers, operating system developers, network designers and the government.

“We have to come out of this with a comprehensive play book for all of us to go execute,” Stephenson said. “We have calls that are perfectly legal, but unwanted, like telemarketers and public opinion surveyors. At the other end of the spectrum, we have millions of calls that are blatantly illegal.”

Stephenson said technical experts representing the companies have had “preliminary conversations about short- and longer-term initiatives.”

Other companies taking part include Blackberry Ltd, British Telecommunications Plc, Charter Communications Inc, Frontier Communications, LG Electronics Inc, Microsoft Corp, Nokia Corp , Qualcomm Inc, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd , Sirius XM Holdings Inc, T-Mobile US Inc and U.S. Cellular Corp. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Von Ahn)

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