AG says no thanks to pursuing robocall complaints

Mark Brnovich

Mark Brnovich

PHOENIX -- Attorneys general from around the nation are asking phone companies to help customers block robocalls and unwanted telemarketers.

But not Mark Brnovich.

An aide to the Arizona attorney general said his boss agrees that the automated phone calls are annoying. And Ryan Anderson said if such a blocking service were offered, Brnovich probably would buy it.

Anderson said, though, that Brnovich does not believe it is the role of an attorney general to tell phone companies what services they should offer -- even if 45 of his colleagues do not view the issue that way.

The letter to the five companies says that the attorneys general are "on the front lines of consumer protection for millions of Americans harassed by unwanted and unwelcome robocalls.

"Though our offices work diligently to prosecute those who violate state and federal laws intended to prevent such calls, our enforcement efforts alone cannot stop the problem,' states the letter to the excutives of AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and CenturyLink. "The better solution is to stop intrusive calls before they ever reach the consumer.'

Telephone companies had balked at even offering the service, even testifying in 2013 to a congressional committee that they believed it would be illegal.

Last month, however, the Federal Communications Commission clarified its rules clearly stating that phone companies can offer services to block unwanted calls. That resulted in the letter from the AGs this week urging the five major companies to act.

"Your organizations are now poised to offer your customers the help they need,' the letter states. "We urge you to act without delay.'

Anderson, however, said it would be inappropriate for his boss to weigh in. In fact, he suggested that it was the other 45 who are in the wrong.

"The fact of the matter that we're even discussing this, or the fact that it is noticeable (that he did not sign it) is the fact that he is the attorney general,' he said. Anderson said that position comes with enormous power.

"They have a responsibility to wield that in a responsible manner,' he said. And Anderson said even merely urging a company to offer a product or service crosses a line.

That's a view apparently not shared by most other attorneys general -- or, in fact, Brnovich's predecessor.

After the telephone companies told Congress they could not block phone calls, 39 attorneys general wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for clarification of whether any laws or regulations prohibit providers from offering this service. Among those who signed that request was Tom Horne, who Brnovich defeated last year in the Republican primary in his bid for another four-year term.

That resulted in the response last month by the FCC what it called a "package of declaratory rulings' affirming the right of consumers to control the calls they receive. That same package also spells out that telephone companies "face no legal barriers to allowing consumers to choose to use the robocall-blocking technology.'

The FCC said that means offering "do not disturb' services for customers with landline and cell phones.

But the agency spelled out that its regulations also allow consumer who have agreed to accept such calls to revoke that permission at any time. And the FCC said unwanted text messages fall into the same area where consumers can block them.

That finding prompted the letter to the five large telecom companies -- the letter that Brnovich would not sign.

"This clarification by the FCC should remove any doubt about your legal authority to empower consumers by providing call-blocking technology to help stop robocalls, scam text messages and unwanted telemarketing calls,' the 45 AGs wrote.

Anderson said Brnovich stands by his decision not to join with the others.

"It was a judgment call of whether or not this office should be telling lawful businesses what product they should or should not be offering,' he said.

Anderson said the line, in Brnovich's opinion, is what is legal and what is not.

So, for example, he said the AG's office pursues those who seek to defraud consumers by offering products and not delivering. And Anderson said there have been actions taken against phone companies which charge customers for unwanted services, a practice known as "cramming.'

But Arizona does not outright ban companies from marketing to consumers by phone, even using autodialers and robotic messaging. The only time it becomes illegal is if the person is on the "do-not-call' list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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