Editor's note: Tired of Robocalls? This column from Betty Lin-Fisher, which first appeared in the Beacon Journal on Jan. 24, 2016, will give you helpful information on how to sign up for a free web-based service called Nomorobo. Unfortunately, this does not work with basic regular land-line telephone service, so you must have something like Spectrum (former Time Warner) Digital phone, AT&T's U-verse or another Internet-based phone system. The landline service is free. A mobile app version is available for iPhones only for $1.99 a month; Android is coming soon.

The effort to fight those annoying robocalls got a big boost and ally when last week Time Warner Cable — one of the nation’s largest providers of digital phone, cable TV and Internet services — made it possible for its phone customers to block robocallers with the touch of one button.

For those of you with Time Warner digital phone and regular readers of my column, you’ll know that for almost two years, I’ve successfully been blocking robocallers using a free, online service called Nomorobo (www.nomorobo.com).

Time Warner has allowed its system to work with Nomorobo, but until now it had been a cumbersome task; users had to log on to Time Warner’s Voicezone software and follow step-by-step instructions offered by Nomorobo to allow all incoming calls to simultaneously ring at Nomorobo’s server and your home. Once Nomorobo recognizes the number as one of its millions on its “blacklist” of known robocallers, it hangs up on the call after one ring. At my house, we’re all trained to not get up for the phone until it rings twice — which is rare since we don’t get a lot of calls on our landline, but I like to keep it for safety reasons since our cell service can sometimes be patchy in the house.

How it works

With Time Warner’s recent one-button Nomorobo option, users can go to that Voicezone software (http://voicezone.timewarnercable.com) and click the Nomorobo option, which will automatically do the behind-the-scenes things that consumers had to do before, with one click.

While Time Warner would prefer customers go online to turn Nomorobo on, if you are not comfortable on the computer, you can also call customer service at 877-772-2253. Ask to speak to technical support and a representative can get Nomorobo turned on for you.

The Time Warner one-click Nomorobo nod is a huge win for its developer, Aaron Foss, who tied for first place in a Federal Trade Commission competition for best technology to combat robocalls in 2013. Since he launched his free service 27 months ago, it has blocked more than 68 million robocalls. Last month alone, it analyzed 15 million calls and stopped 5.7 million robocalls for its 385,000 users.

However, Foss has also had his share of cold shoulders from many phone companies — particularly traditional landline and cellphone providers — who have not wanted to provide the technology or services to let Nomorobo work with its systems. Foss testified in front of Congress and last year took consumers’ complaints — about 250 pounds of paperwork — to the Federal Communications Commission to prove his point that people were fed up with robocalls.

According to voice mail provider YouMail, an estimated 1.45 billion robocalls were made to U.S. phones in December alone. That’s a 48.5 percent increase from November. Youmail also found that Columbus topped the list of originating the most robocalls for the second month in a row with more than 66 million. Akron is number 11 on that top 20 list, with just more than 13 million.

Cleveland and Columbus also made the top 50 list for getting the most robocalls with 14 million and 12 million comparatively. The top city was Atlanta with more than 59 million calls in a month.

Time-consuming project

Foss said Time Warner folks have been working with him for about 18 months to try to integrate Nomorobo into their software. Foss makes no money from Time Warner for the partnership, but says their cooperation is certainly a “huge feather in my cap.”

Foss thanks Time Warner for being in his corner early and sent some thanks my way, too, since I first brought the Nomorobo issues to Time Warner’s attention a few years ago.

Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, applauded Time Warner for its move in a news release.

Consumers Union last year launched a campaign (www.endrobocalls.org) to try to convince the nation’s top phone companies to give their customers free tools to block robocalls.

“Consumers are demanding relief from robocalls that ring all day long and are used by fraudsters peddling the latest scams.” said Tim Marvin, who heads up Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign. “Time Warner Cable deserves credit for making it easier for their customers to stop robocalls in their tracks. It’s time for the top phone companies to show they are taking this problem seriously by offering effective call-blocking tools like Nomorobo.”

Foss also hopes Time Warner’s move helps with other carriers.

The ice is thawing,” he said. “Ultimately, the consumer is the beneficiary of this. We all knew this was something that worked, but the carriers were pooh-poohing us.”

Landlines left behind

There’s bad news, however, for those of you who are traditional landline customers; anyone with a phone line like AT&T coming into their house can’t take advantage of Nomorobo. Foss said he doesn’t hold out much hope for landline customers, unfortunately, because the carriers are focused on new technologies, wanting landline-only customers to upgrade.

Digital or Internet-based phone services that use what’s known as Voice Over Internet Protocol (such as Time Warner Digital phone, AT&T’s U-verse and Vonage) do work with Nomorobo.

And Foss says he’s got exciting news for cellphone users, who can’t use Nomorobo because the wireless carriers haven’t come to the table. At the end of next month, Foss will be introducing Nomorobo Premium Services, a $5-a-month service that allows robocall blocking on smartphones. (Sorry, not flip or basic cellphones, because you have to able to install a certain program)

Foss said his intention is to always give the basic Nomorobo service for free, and he hopes to eventually make money by charging businesses or carriers for the aggregate data he’s collecting. Similarly, he hopes that eventually he can offer smartphone robocall blocking for free once he can get the wireless carriers to allow the technology. He uses the example of how consumers used to have to pay extra a few decades ago for three-way calling or other similar services, but now they are included free in most packages.

Whether you need to spend the $5 a month to block your cellphone robocalls is up to you. I actually don’t get that many robocalls on my cellphone, but I know others who do, so it may be worth your while.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.