Time To Hang Up On ‘Robocalls’ For Good…Thanks to the U.S. House of Representatives

Published on July 25, 2019

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Stopping Bad Robocalls Act” (Act) by an almost unanimous vote of 429-3.

Last year, Americans received 47.8 billion robocalls, nearly half of which were from scammers, according to a February report released by the FCC.

Last month, we provided you with some tips on how to avoid being victimized by robocalls. Today, we present you with what will hopefully become an extremely effective and relieving law that will free us from the robocall hell we all experience multiple times a day, every day.

Robocalls,’ or automated telephone calls, are those which deliver a recorded message, typically on behalf of a political party or telemarketing company. These calls have increased in recent years, according to a report by Verizon, because technology has made it cheap and easy for robocallers to make calls from anywhere in the world, while hiding their identities by displaying fake Caller ID information.

Grit Daily reached out to the Deputy Press Secretary for the U.S. House of Representatives for further comments.

Robocalls are a pervasive, persistent problem, and consumers are desperate for relief from these unsolicited messages,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumer Reports.

These calls don’t just irritate consumers — they interfere with the phone service for which we pay dearly, and they subject people to scams. By one estimate, consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in one single year. We commend Chairman Pallone and Ranking Member Walden for introducing the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which will help ensure that all consumers have effective protections from deceptively spoofed calls, including calls from scammers. The bill will also help get rid of loopholes in order to stop robocallers from skirting the law. We look forward to working with legislators to ensure that consumers get the protections they deserve.”

In a tweet by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “this comprehensive bill requires every call to be verified, allows the blocking of spam calls, and empowers @FCC to protect Americans from scammers.”

What Does the Bill Say?

The Act is an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934, codified under 47 U.S.C. 227, which helps clarify the prohibitions on making robocalls.

The bill itself was sponsored by Pallone, which overall, “prescribes [stricter] regulations, or amend such existing regulations, regarding calls made or text messages sent using automatic telephone dialing systems and calls made using artificial or prerecorded voice as will, in the judgment of the Commission, clarify descriptions of automatic telephone dialing systems.”

Specifically, any entity wishing to make a robocall must first obtain permission of the individual(s) being called, in addition to providing other reliable avenues to which consumers are able to withdraw their consent—something that we are unable to do now, without great difficulty.

One of the new amendments to the Act requires the FCC to submit evidence of robocall violations to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, while making those referrals publicly available.

Consumers should be excited with respect to some additional protection included in the Act—“no additional cost to consumers or small business customers” shall be charged as line items. Essentially, the FCC’s previous provision that allowed companies such as AT&T and T-Mobile to line item charge its customers for any costs associated with halting robocalls, is voided.

In a statement by Robert Fisher, Senior Vice-President of Federal Legislative Affairs for Verizon, Chairman Pallone and the rest of the Committee is being recognized for its efforts.

We applaud Chairman Pallone, Ranking Member Walden, and the rest of the House Energy and Commerce committee co-sponsors of this bill for their continued efforts to protect consumers from disruptive and harassing robocalls. Enough is enough – it’s time for Americans to hang up on abusive robocallers once and for all. Verizon has already begun deploying the STIR-SHAKEN call authentication protocol for IP Voice services, and we welcome the continued momentum toward a bipartisan, comprehensive solution that empowers service providers, law enforcement, and most of all consumers. We commend this legislation and look forward to working with Congress to make abusive robocalls history.”

However, the bill does require the FCC to clarify its definition of what a “robocall” is.

Am I Exempt from the Bill?

According to the FTC, emergency services and certain non-commercial entities would be exempt from the new regulations, even if there is “no commercial purpose.”

Additionally, any automated calls that don’t contain “unsolicited advertisements” are also exempt. In other words, we should not be expecting debt collectors to stop their collection efforts any time soon—which sucks.

The significance of Wednesday’s vote demonstrates a shift in American’s willing to restore “…confidence in the telephone system and put[ting] consumers back in charge of their phones,” said Pallone and Rep. Greg Walden, Energy and Commerce’s ranking member, and Congressman Mike Doyle and Bob Latta—chairman and ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee,” said in a joint statement.

This bipartisan bill has received tremendously strong support and the Committee is very “proud of the strong support [its] Stopping Bad Robocalls Act received.”

We’re proud of the strong support our bipartisan Stopping Bad Robocalls Act received this afternoon and look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate to produce a bill that the President can sign into law. The American people are counting on us to help end the robocall epidemic, and we will deliver for them,” the bipartisan group said.

Where Does It Go From Here?

Since its passing in the House, the Act now heads to the Senate where it has not faced any signs of opposition as of the date of this piece.

Back in May, the Senate passed an anti-robocall bill, called TRACED, which would improve the enforcement mechanisms between agencies policing robocalls. It would also require phone companies to use a technology protocol called SHAKEN/STIR to help ensure calls are authentic and allow for quicker tracing of illegal calls to find who’s responsible.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) stated in a recent tweet, that the House would work with the Senate to “conference our robocall bills and send legislation to the president.”

If there’s one thing both political parties can agree on, it’s that robocalling is an issue that plagues voters on all ends of the spectrum, so this looks to be a very positive step forward in the parties working together.

The bill was also endorsed by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a nonprofit specializing in consumer justice and economic security for low-income and other disadvantaged people.

According to its senior counsel, Margot Saunders, this passing is a very large step in fighting illegal robocalls.

*All images are authorized and provided by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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