SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — There’s a new effort to stop robocallers from harassing people. Consumers Union has started a grassroots campaign, calling on the phone companies to do more to stop auto-generated calls that go out to thousands of people at a time.

“We think the phone companies can actually block the calls before they get to your phone. They have the technology,” campaign organizer Tim Marvin told Consumerwatch.

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Marvin helped start a petition https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls that as of Friday, April 17, has more than 279,000 supporters. The petition calls on phone companies to provide free tools to customers to block unwanted robocalls. Marvin says it’s needed, in part, because the National Do Not Call List, introduced 12 years ago, is no longer effective at stopping most robocallers.

“It’s not working anymore,” Marvin said.

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But, despite support from consumers, there’s a hang-up in moving forward with more protections. The telecom industry has questioned whether it’s allowed to provide call-blocking tools.

In an email to Consumerwatch, the trade group US Telecom said it “shares the widespread frustration concerning the continuing use of robocalling in violation of the Do-Not-Call framework.” But it also said “there are a number of complex technological and legal issues,” in dealing with the issue. Among them, an F.C.C. rule written in 1936, that phone companies have contended requires carriers to connect every call.

“That’s not how we read the rule,” Marvin said. “The way we read it is that consumers clearly have the right to block unwanted phone calls from coming to their house.”

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The FCC is now reviewing the rule and is supposed to issue a clarification. Attorney Generals in 38 states have also asked the F.C.C. to clarify the rule.