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Legislation Unveiled to Crack Down on Robocalling and Protect Consumers

— November 28, 2018

Legislation Unveiled to Crack Down on Robocalling and Protect Consumers

Two U.S. senators recently unveiled bipartisan legislation to strengthen penalties related to robocalls and protect consumers.  Senator John Thune, a Republican who chairs the Commerce Committee, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, introduced robocall legislation that would bring federal agencies and state attorneys general together to “address impediments to criminal prosecution of robocallers.”  The bill is also backed by Republican Senator Roger Wicker and will expand the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FTC) to impose penalties of up to $10,000 per call.

“Existing civil penalty rules were designed to impose penalties on lawful telemarketers who make mistakes.  This enforcement regime is totally inadequate for scam artists and we need to do more to separate enforcement of carelessness and other mistakes from more sinister actors,” Thune said.  YouMail, a company that blocks robocalls, estimated there were 5.1 billion unwanted U.S. calls in October 2018 alone.

Last month, 35 state attorneys general issued a joint letter encouraging the federal government to step up efforts to fight such calls, asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to further strengthen rules to let telecommunications service providers block certain robocalls.  “Virtually anyone can send millions of illegal robocalls and frustrate law enforcement with just a computer, inexpensive software, and an internet connection,” the attorneys general wrote.

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Gerry Christensen, a telecom expert and CEO of Mind Commerce, a research company that specializes in phone systems and networking technology, added, “Current solutions rely upon analytics software and/or artificial intelligence, which can be problematic.”

FTC Chairman Joe Simons said two-thirds of consumer complaints made to the agency are about unwanted calls, and the group has begun publishing caller ID numbers of robocallers in consumer complaints.

The new bill would require carriers to adopt technology to verify that incoming calls are legitimate before they reach consumers’ phones and institute new rules to help protect subscribers from receiving unwanted solicitations.  It would extend the statute of limitations to three years up from one year for the FCC to impose robocall fines.

Consumer Reports strongly supports the legislation, stating, “spoofed robocalls have become a major intrusion into consumers’ everyday lives, and an all-too-convenient vehicle for scammers.”

Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, added, “The robocall problem is out of control, and it’s time for the FCC and the phone companies to take more action, so all consumers have the protections they deserve.  We believe the FCC should require phone companies to implement caller ID authentication by a reasonable deadline so that phone companies can stop unwanted spoofed calls from reaching consumers.”

On Twitter, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he is pleased that the bill “would make it easier for the @FCC to go after illegal #robocall scams by extending the statute of limitations for enforcement actions.”  Earlier this month, Pai wrote the chief executives of major telephone service providers demanding they institute a system designed to combat robocalls no later than next year.  The letters went to 13 companies including AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc, T-Mobile US Inc, Alphabet Inc, Comcast Corp, Cox Communications Inc [COXC.UL] and Sprint Corp.


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