Commentary

Bipartisan House Bill Could Pull The Plug On A Lot Of Robocalls

Hello, annoying robocall? This is your umpteenth notice that your existence is about to … well, at least be curtailed. A compromise on the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, a bill Democrats first unveiled in April 2018, was reached by members of both parties in the House of Representative yesterday. It is expected to wend its way through the full House, Senate and White House in the weeks ahead. 

“The bill will require carriers to improve caller ID to eliminate fake numbers that give an appearance that the call is local, also known as spoofing, and offer call blocking services to customers for free. The FCC will also have the authority to track down and take action against robocallers,” CNET’s Oscar Gonzalez reports.

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But it’s not stamping out robocalls entirely.

“The FCC rules give companies more freedom to block calls but doesn’t force them to do so. And there are many phone companies that aren’t yet prepared to deploy an important tool to tackle robocalls effectively -- a call-authentication technology called STIR/SHAKEN,” Octavio Blanco writes for Consumer Reports.

“STIR/SHAKEN can be used to block certain calls, especially those with masked numbers intended to trick you into answering. Once that system is fully operational, it should eliminate these ‘spoofed’ calls,” Blanco continues. “But STIR/SHAKEN won’t automatically block the many calls that come from legal robocallers, such as bill collectors, political campaigns, and some telemarketers. However, it will help label them so that you can better identify who’s calling and decide whether you want to answer.”

“The revamped bill was unveiled by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, and the committee’s ranking member, Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon. It would apply to both wireless phones and land lines, according to Mr. Pallone, who said he was optimistic about the bill’s chances of winning House and Senate approval and being signed by President Trump,” Neil Vigdor writes for the New York Times.

“Their legislation would require the Federal Communications Commission to update the definition of what qualifies as a robocall, a move that could subject a wider array of companies to requirements they obtain consent before calling a consumer. The FCC also would have to ensure it outlaws any attempts to circumvent its rules using new or different robocall technology,” Tony Romm writes for the Washington Post.

“Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center, pointed to a lawsuit that her organization has supported against Hilton Grand Vacations Company. Advocates charge that Hilton designed its system in such a way that it narrowly avoided the government’s definition of a robocall -- by having a human worker essentially just click a button. As a result, they say Hilton never obtained the consent of the consumers it called. Hilton has denied it violated the law,” Romm continues.

A similar bill to the one introduced yesterday “sailed through” the Senate in May, CNN’s Brian Fung reports, by a vote of 97-1.  Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone dissenter.

Meanwhile, “the FCC, which plays a central role in both bills, has been urging the nation’s telecommunications providers to crack down on illegal robocalls. The commission will vote next month on a proposal to let phone carriers block certain calls by default,” Emily Birnbaum writes for The Hill.

Solicitations made by Automatic Telephone Dialing Systems (ATDS), as anyone tethered to a landline or mobile device will aver, have propagated like crab grass in recent years.

“The measure comes as Americans receive billions of robocalls each month. There were 4.7 billion robocalls placed in the United States in May, down slightly from the record 5.2 billion in March, according to YouMail, a robocall-blocking application,” Christian Hetrick reports for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“At one point, this was just a nuisance. Now there are so many indications that this is putting people in danger,” Rep. Pallone tells the NYT’s Vigdor. “You have these scammers now disguised as the I.R.S. You have those that are disguised as police officers. From personal experience, I think it undermines people’s faith in the phone system and they don’t answer.”

Well, then there’s the one-ring call.

“Just like the name implies, the idea is for the robocaller to let the phone ring just once. Hoping that you’ll have heard it, and your curiosity will overtake you enough to want to call back and ask whether someone just called you from this number,” explains BGR’s Andy Meek.

“These calls are likely trying to prompt consumers to call the number back, often resulting in per minute toll charges similar to a 900 number,” the FCC warns.

1 comment about "Bipartisan House Bill Could Pull The Plug On A Lot Of Robocalls".
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  1. Tony Quart from Bizousoft, July 2, 2019 at 11:19 p.m.

    I hope this new rule will really stop the increase of robocalls. They become really annoying, especially the ones that come from illegal telemarketers and scammers. I have read an article about this topic at https://www.whycall.me/news/consumer-wins-massive-229500-robocall-lawsuit-against-time-warner-cable/, but I don't think filing a lawsuit to scammers will be possible.

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