Update from Betty Lin-Fisher, Dec. 17:
Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t work. I wrote a column about Time Warner Cable’s new “Answer Anywhere” feature, which promised that it could be used in conjunction with the website www.nomorobo.com to help thwart robocalls. The cable company had said it would be available to all Northeast Ohio customers.
But the system wasn’t ready.
Readers have called and e-mailed me and Time Warner Cable since the story was published. They said they did not see the “Answer Anywhere” function listed on their “My Services” area of their online Time Warner account at www.twc.com.
There is a short answer of what went wrong: Time Warner Cable for the last year has been changing to another software platform for its digital phone service. New digital phone customers who joined in the last year have been on the new system. That means that as of last week, they would have the “Answer Anywhere” function available.
But for other existing customers, the upgrade isn’t scheduled until possibly January or later. At that time of the reporting on the column, that was not communicated to the right people at Time Warner Cable who were talking to me.
Before I published the story, I tested the system myself, and I was unable to see the “Answer Anywhere” function. Time Warner Cable technical staffers got involved and said they had to update the system. When I asked to make sure it was not just my account they were updating, officials assured me that it was getting updated for the whole area. I wouldn’t want to report on a consumer service not widely available.
They were wrong and there obviously was a breakdown of communication at Time Warner Cable.
“It’s not your fault, it was a miscommunication,” said Time Warner Cable spokesman Mike Hogan.
Hogan also believed the whole system was upgraded before my column was published.
“We’re sorry for any confusion this announcement may have caused and we’re doing everything possible to help customers know how they can get this feature.”
The problem seems to be mostly focused on Northeast Ohio. I’m the only reporter who was interested in the “Answer Anywhere” function. I’ve been trying to help consumers figure out ways to thwart robocalls. In order for the Nomorobo free service to work, customers need the “Simultaneous Ring” or in Time Warner Cable’s case, “Answer Anywhere” to work.
If I had known Time Warner Cable’s system was not ready for system-wide use, I would not have written the column.
Now Time Warner Cable officials are working on fixing the issue.
Customers who want to use “Answer Anywhere” may call the Time Warner Customer Service number at 877-772-2253 and ask for Technical Assistance.
The company said its customer service representatives have been informed how to handle these calls.
But there’s more.
Somehow the Caller ID information that is simultaneously forwarded to Nomorobo’s database is showing the wrong phone number, so Nomorobo is not able to work accurately and hang up on the calls.
This problem doesn’t seem to be occurring for all customers. Aaron Foss, Nomorobo developer, said when he looked at my phone number account, it was working fine and then sometime last week, the mixup happened.
Though I am still getting phone calls to my home, for some reason, the data being sent to Nomorobo at the same time is not showing the phone number calling into my home. Instead, it shows my number and obviously I’m not a robocaller.
So until Time Warner Cable officials can fix that, it has rendered the Nomorobo service useless.
Foss and I have also had some instances of readers who have said their calls seemed to have been blocked altogether. We are unsure whether this is related to the other Time Warner Cable problems or if customers have accidentally activated the wrong phone feature.
When you are upgraded to the correct software system, make sure you are turning on “Answer Anywhere” and not “Forward All My Calls.”
The forward option appears in blue on the website. I’ve asked Time Warner Cable officials to change that. It’s a natural inclination for people to click on that but it’s the wrong feature they would be activating by forwarding all calls to Nomorobo and inadvertently blocking all of their calls.
Make sure when entering the Nomorobo number that you are on the blue tab at the top of the screen that says “Answer Anywhere.”
Another note: once you are upgraded, you will lose any voicemails you have saved.
Foss said he has not had issues such as the ones with Time Warner Cable with other phone provider launches of the “Simultaneous Ring” feature. He suggests people turn off the “Answer Anywhere” to Nomorobo’s phone number to avoid missing any calls. Foss said he will email all registered Time Warner Cable users of Nomorobo when the problem is cleared and I’ll also have updates in this column.
There’s some great news for Time Warner Cable digital phone customers who want to thwart illegal robocalls.
There is a free service called Nomorobo.com, which uses a phone feature often called “simultaneous ring” to analyze incoming phone calls and hang up on numbers known to be robocallers. (A previous report on this is online at www.tinyurl.com/nomorobo.)
In September, Nomorobo’s inventor, Aaron Foss, only had a handful of national phone carriers whose features included the “simultaneous ring.” They were mostly the companies that had Internet-based or digital phone services, such as Vonage and AT&T’s U-verse.
Nomorobo tied for first place in the Federal Trade Commission’s competition last spring for best technology to combat robocalls and shared in a $50,000 prize.
In September, AT&T and Time Warner Cable said neither supported the “simultaneous ring” feature.
But it became available by Time Warner Cable nationally a week ago, and there are other new features, too. One is “Selective Call Acceptance,” where customers can choose to accept calls only from 30 telephone numbers they place on a list.
While we’re pretty sure the launch of the “simultaneous ring,” called “Answer Anywhere” for Time Warner Cable customers was already in the works, I’m still appreciative to John Higgins Jr., the area vice president of operations for Time Warner Cable for the Northeast Ohio/Western Pennsylvania region.
Higgins and I were part of a group of 58 business and community leaders who went to Omaha, Neb., in mid-September for three days to learn what that city considered its best practices. I had just written that Nomorobo was not supported by Time Warner Cable, but asked Higgins if he would connect Foss with the company to help consumers.
So what does this mean for Time Warner Cable phone customers? You can log on to your account online via www.twc.com and activate it on “My Services” under the “Call Forwarding” section. There are detailed instructions for Time Warner Cable customers with screen shots at www.nomorobo.com where you may register and get the phone number to forward your phone to ring “simultaneously” at your house and on Nomorobo’s server.
An incoming call will ring at both your house and Nomoborobo’s server. That server will go through the 1.2 million known robocall numbers and if the call is from one of them, it will cut off the call after the first ring.
So wait until a second ring to pick up the phone (often, it takes a second ring for Caller ID to register anyway).
Foss said the data are anonymous and Nomorobo is not monitoring an individual’s calls. The service will not block school closings or appointment reminders or weather advisories.
I’ve been testing the service for a little less than a week. I know for sure that the service blocked at least one call. It might have blocked more because I was trying to monitor the service by temporarily having my home phone ring on my cellphone, too. Then I could monitor calls during the day from work. I’ve discovered that the “simultaneous ring” isn’t quite simultaneous and there seems to be a slight delay in receiving cellphone calls.
One night my husband said he heard one ring and it stopped. I never got the call on my cell, so it’s possible Nomorobo has been stopping other calls during the daytime.
Rick Schmahl, the city of Akron’s chief information officer, has been using Nomorobo on his home phone since September. Schmahl said the service has been working and he’s noticed many calls that cut off after that first ring.
Pressure still needs to be put on the traditional phone carriers who have not yet made the technology available to use services like Nomorobo or their own technology. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, held a hearing last summer on robocalls where Foss testified. She has expressed disappointment that the major carriers are not doing more to try to find the technology or make available features that would help get rid of robocalls. Last week, McCaskill announced she was drafting legislation to provide regulators with better tools.
Foss said adding Time Warner Cable is a big plus for Nomorobo. Though Foss was waiting until I wrote my column to officially tell Time Warner Cable customers the service was now available, he said he still had 150 people sign up in three days.
Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company based in Philadelphia, should be online by the end of the year, he said. It also works with Verizon’s Fios, which is the digital phone service, and in other parts of the country, Cablevision and SureWest.
Since September, Foss said his free service has blocked 350,000 robocalls for 22,000 users.
Users may report suspicious numbers from robocallers to add to Foss’ database.
Foss said his No. 1 request is a log for users to see what calls have been blocked. He’s working on that but hasn’t decided whether it will be free.
Remember, if you receive a nuisance call, don’t engage the caller or message. Don’t push any buttons in trying to get on an internal Do Not Call list. That just verifies your number is valid.
If you have phone numbers shown on a caller ID device, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357. For more information about robocalls, or to complain online, go to the site www.ftc.gov/robocalls.
Often, the calls come from “spoofed” numbers, which means a hijacked number or a fake number. The FTC uses complaint information in investigations.