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Koster: More needs to be done to stamp out irritating phone calls

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller talk to reporters on Thursday in Brentwood about the No Call List's limitations.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller talk to reporters on Thursday in Brentwood about the No Call List's limitations.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster warned that technology advances have made it more difficult to clamp down on annoying phone calls. He convened a conference on “No Call Lists” in Brentwood. Missouri was one of the first states to implement such a list, which quickly spread across the country.

In the past, Koster said, cracking down on telemarketing was relatively simple. But it’s become more complicated with the advent of Internet-based phone calling – and the fact that many offenders don’t live in the United States.

“In 2001, when Attorney General Nixon passed the legislation, long-distance telephone calls still had real costs associated with them,” Koster said. “And launching telephone calls into the Missouri area was probably only going to happen from a defined ring geographically around a given region. Now, telephone calls are coming in for free. There is no cost associated with them anymore.”

“And they’re coming in from India and Indonesia and places where law enforcement in the states, all 50 states, simply have no reach,” he added.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller joined Koster at the event. He said he receives more and more complaint from his citizens about aggressive telemarketers.

“Ten thousand calls per minute come through VOIP – the Voiceover Internet Protocol, so free calls from overseas  -- where we can’t reach them,” Zoeller said. “It’s only the [Federal Communications Commission] that can block that. They have the authority. So the fact that they haven’t, they claim, is that a free speech right.”

Both Koster and Zoeller said that there must be a two-pronged approach. The FCC has to provide clear authority to phone carriers that call-blocking technology is allowed. And there has to be a concerted effort to convince phone companies to adopt those services.

“We’re asking the FCC to give explicit permission to the telephone carriers themselves to implement this call-blocking technology in the United States, as has been done in other countries successfully,” Koster said. “And then it will be up to government officials and policymakers to work with telephone carriers to understand that this something that people really want and it’s something the marketplace badly needs.”

Koster said the flood of irritating calls is “an enormous problem” – even with the advent of the “No Call List.”

“It is the consumer issue that people are feeling the most in their personal lives,” Koster said. “I also hear it just on the street when I’m out and have a chance to visit with folks in casual setting. It’s the thing that they are most likely to bring up and complain and ask about. And I totally understand. And that is why we continue to do what is going to be most impactful.

“Which is getting the attorneys general together to work on our federal partners to ask them to bring this call-blocking technology to the United States,” he added.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.