Robocalls have increased 370% since Dec. 2015. There were an estimated 5.2 billion robocalls in March 2019 alone. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai admits “the American people are fed up.”
A bipartisan effort to silence these callers appears to be underway. After all, no one wants to be inundated with, say, sales pitches for new lines of credit, let alone scams that con you into sending money. Truly, if Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on stopping robocalls, what can they agree on?
Over the past few weeks, the subcommittee on Communications and Technology in the U.S. House has convened hearings on “Legislating to Stop the Onslaught of Annoying Robocalls” and H.R. 946: the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. Margot Saunders, Senior Counsel to the National Consumer Law Center and resident of Hurricane, West Virginia, supported passage of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act as a powerful tool that would stop most unwanted robocalls in the United States, giving us once again control over our telephones and saving our telephone system in her most recent testimony before the subcommittee. Notably, Ms. Saunders previously testified as an expert witness on behalf of two consumers represented by Bordas & Bordas in the groundbreaking consumer action known as Brown vs. Quicken Loans resulting in a record judgment that provided national exposure of predatory lending practices.
In her Congressional testimony, Saunders discussed the surging problem of unwanted robocalls and how this pending legislation would significantly dial back the scourge of robocalls. H.R. 946 would provide new and substantial protections from robocallers by clarifying various terms in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) and requiring the implementation of meaningful call authentication technology (so Caller ID is once again reliable), The bill would ensure that consumers are protected from unwanted robocalls and robotexts by clarifying the definition of autodialer to ensure robocallers cannot evade the law’s requirement for consumers’ consent for robocalls. The bill also amends the law to reinforce that the TCPA applies to text messages, and to make certain that consent provided for robocalls can always be revoked.
“The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is the principal federal law to provide protections against unwanted robocalls. Its key principle is to give the person being called control over whether to receive robocalls,” said Saunders. “The problem is not just calls from overt scams such as identity theft schemes: major well-known American corporations and debt collectors are responsible for hundreds of millions of robocalls each month, and many of these businesses break the law by continuing unrelenting calls to consumers even after being told repeatedly to stop. If the rate of telemarketing calls continues at the current pace, in 2019 there will be over 11 billion telemarketing robocalls made in the United States. Business robocallers complain to be the victim of a TCPA crisis but it’s a crisis of their own creation.” Saunders stressed the critical importance of consumer enforcement of the TCPA’s restrictions. Without consumer enforcement, robocallers that flood consumers’ phones with unwanted calls would have little to fear.
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has also convened hearings recently on Illegal Robocalls: Calling All to Stop the Scourge. According to Senator Chuck Schumer, Congress has its “best chance” yet of passing bipartisan legislation to squelch robocallers.
Washington has tried to rein in this abuse before: It first rolled out the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. Yet overseas calls and “advances” like rapid auto-dialing and the ability to fake the caller ID quickly made the registry nearly useless. The gridlock in Washington has made it impossible for our laws to keep up with technological advancements. If our lawmakers cannot come together now on solving something as basic as robocalls, numerous career changes should be seriously considered.