A demand for Nomorobo-styled call blocking

Nomorobo founder Aaron Foss.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer’s call for telecommunications carriers to make robocall-blocking technologies available free to landline and cellphone customers could be trajectory-changing news for Nomorobo, the Port Jefferson startup that does just what the senator is asking for.

In his weekend demand for mandatory robocall-blocking services, Schumer cited statistics from the Consumers Union, a national nonprofit that advocates on several cornerstone issues including telecommunications, regarding violations of the federal “Do Not Call” rules, which Schumer helped pass in 2003.

Exhibit A: In a separate announcement Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Florida-based Hilton Grand Vacations Company had agreed to pay a $250,500 settlement – and change its business practices – for violating New York’s Do Not Call law. The violations included calls to consumers whose numbers were included on the state’s Do Not Call registry, according to the governor’s office.

While violators are occasionally caught and punished, robocall technology has remained a step ahead of state and federal legislation, particularly regarding cellular services. But Schumer – without naming any specific products – noted blocking technologies exist that can relegate automated telemarketing calls to a spam box, similar to the way email spam-blockers function.

That’s pretty much Nomorobo in a nutshell, and music to founder Aaron Foss’ ears. Most encouraging, according to the tech entrepreneur: While a national mandate for robocall-blocking availability might be a ways off, it looks like such requirements may soon be a New York reality.

“New York seems to be pushing for it,” Foss said, noting “rumblings” from the New York Department of Public Safety, which contacted Foss to discuss what a robocall-blocking mandate for New York service providers would actually entail.

“We’re a huge state and there’s a lot of people and a lot of money and a lot of companies located here,” he noted. “Carriers can definitely integrate these kinds of things here.”

It’s not as though Nomorobo is sputtering without a robocall-blocking mandate. According to Foss, who teaches entrepreneurism classes at Rockville Centre’s Molloy College and last week was named one of the first six entrepreneurs-in-residence at Hofstra University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, Nomorobo has now been downloaded by over 430,000 users and has blocked some 70 million unwanted robocalls.

And that’s just protecting landlines. The launch of a Nomorobo app for mobile phones was scheduled for February but hit a technological snag, Foss said, delaying the debut by several weeks.

“Technology sometimes doesn’t work with you,” he noted. “Some of the things we thought would be easier turned out to be more difficult, so I had to make some tweaks.”

Nomorobo Mobile now appears likely to lift off sometime this week, according to the creator, who’s been field-testing the mobile version on his own cell phone with positive results.

“It’s a little frustrating, because I’m the tech guy,” Foss noted. “I’m so excited to get this out. But we’re real close to getting this out to everybody else.”

While he’s excited about the mobile launch and pleased by the plug Schumer’s call indirectly gives Nomorobo, Foss doesn’t believe technologies like his robocall-blocker should be automatically activated. Instead, carriers should be mandated to provide the service, he said, and “we have to give the customer the choice of whether they want to turn it on.”

“I’ll be honest: I don’t think it should be turned on by default,” Foss said. “But I really like the idea of mandating that it be available and then giving the consumer the choice. And I think that’s right around the corner, at least in New York.”

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