Cell Providers Policies On Blocking Unwanted Cell Phone Calls

AT&T’s Terrible Policy on Blocking Harassing Marketers and Other Unwanted Cell Phone Calls

Being somewhat of a Luddite, after much reluctance, I purchased my first cell phone in 2000 through AT&T. To my delight there was a great feature which allowed you to block a phone call by entering the number into a blocked number list directly on the phone.  That number would then not be able to dial into the phone. I don’t know where the call actually went, or what message, if any, the caller heard and furthermore I didn’t care. All I know is that the feature effectively blocked calls from repeat offenders who were not supposed to be calling my cell phone number.

It was especially useful for blocking marketing calls (always unsolicited), where they were repeatedly calling me and running up my minutes. It also could come in handy if there were people you had given your number to and never wanted to speak with again. I never had to use it for that reason.  

The best use was receiving calls from fax machines: remember them?  You couldn’t call a fax back to tell them that they were calling the wrong number and those fax machines would sometimes call ten times in a row.

When AT&T was acquired by Cingular in 2004 for $41 billion there was little noticeable difference in the service or pricing. There was one big change – Cingular dropped the call block feature.

If you called customer service to ask about call blocking, they said it was disabled and they had no plans of reviving it, even though they admitted that other customers had said it was a popular feature.

In 2007, AT&T bought back Cingular and re-acquired their own wireless company. Once again the call block feature was not made available.

My cell phone is literally in the hands of no more than two dozen entities, mostly family and close friends. No co-workers. No organizations. No doctor’s offices. No credit card companies or retail outfits.

A recent spate of unwanted calls from marketers led me to reinvestigate if the call block feature had been reactivated by AT&T.

The answer was – kind of.

AT&T offers a pay plan at $4.99 per month / per line geared for parents called AT&T Smart Limits for Wireless. Through this plan you can block up to 30 numbers from inbound/outbound calls or texts. It cannot be activated directly through the phone itself but is done through an online interface.

AT&T is the second largest cell provider, slightly behind Verizon Wireless and has over 100 million cellular subscribers in the United States.

The top five U.S. cellular providers account for over 300 million current subscribers.

Here are the four other largest U.S. cell providers inbound call blocking policies:

Verizon Wireless: Free blocking on incoming calls up to 5 numbers for 90 days. More than 5 numbers you pay a $4.99 per line / per month charge.

Sprint Nextel: Free blocking on incoming calls up to 50 numbers through an online interface.

T-Mobile USA: Free blocking on incoming calls up to 10 numbers. 

TracFone Wireless: No ability to block any incoming call.

The burden of blocking unwanted calls should not be placed on the customer. The company should be providing this service without charging. I understand AT&T is in the business of making money, but as a long time customer and stockholder of AT&T, I find this practice of charging to block an unwanted call to be obnoxious.

Simply put,  you are paying for minutes on outbound and inbound calls and should be able to choose who you want to block from calling your phone and not have to pay for that privilege.

Don’t rely on the marketers to remove you from their lists by pressing 9.  Most of these telemarketers calling cell phones are highly unscrupulous.  And forget about the government’s Do Not Call Registry.  It is toothless and a joke.

The only way change is going to happen is if enough customers complain. Then AT&T might  listen and revise their policy.

Are you listening AT&T?

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