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Consumer Reports celebrates Senate passage of anti-robocalls bill, urges President to sign bill into law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Consumer Reports today celebrated the Senate vote in favor of a bipartisan bill to help curb the many millions of unwanted robocalls that harass Americans every single day.

The bill (S. 151), which passed the House on December 4, is now headed to the President for consideration.

Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst for Consumer Reports, said, “This is a major victory for consumers in our long fight to curb abusive robocalls.  It’s time to take back control of our phones. People are sick and tired of being harassed by robocalls, day and night. They’re a constant disruption in our lives.  Too often, robocalls are made by scammers who are trying to steal our money, or exploit our most sensitive, personal information.

“This is not the end of our efforts. Robocalls are not going to disappear overnight.  We need to keep working for other protections against abusive robocalling. But we are very excited to see this bill now on the verge of becoming law. This is an important, welcome, and long-awaited step. We urge the President to sign this bill,” Mahoney said. 

Consumer Reports launched the End Robocalls campaign in 2015 after years of working with consumers on this problem. The nonprofit organization collected hundreds of thousands of complaints from people across the U.S. who were fed up with the nonstop pestering of robocalls.  Consumer Reports has worked closely with members of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and phone companies to advance reforms to limit robocalls.

Congress enacted a law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to require that robocallers call only when they have the consumer’s prior consent, and to give consumers the right to withdraw that consent at any time.  But with advances in technology that enable robocalls to be made in the thousands or even millions at a time, the consent requirement is being increasingly ignored.

The new bill approved by the Senate today is called the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act.  The bill provides new tools and legal authority to crack down on robocalls. It helps address problems in several important ways. The bill strengthens penalties for intentional robocalling in violation of the prior consent requirement.  It requires telephone service providers to implement effective mechanisms for determining whether the number appearing on a call is authentic, and to alert consumers if the call cannot be authenticated. It requires providers to enable the blocking of robocalls that cannot be authenticated, with protections and recourse for legitimate calls erroneously blocked.  Consumers will get these authentication and blocking services at no additional line item charge.

“As we repeatedly told Congress, ensuring that phone companies are required to provide effective anti-robocall technology, at no charge, has long been a top priority for Consumer Reports. We are glad to see a bill to guarantee this protection,” said Mahoney. “Consumers already pay so much for their phone service, it’s not fair that they should have to pay more to protect themselves from robocalls, many of which are from scammers that prey on people.”

Consumer Reports’ May 2019 cover story Mad About Robocalls? has a nationally representative CR survey that found 70 percent of U.S. consumers have stopped answering their phones if they don’t recognize the caller’s number, or if the number is anonymous.  Sixty-two percent said they let most calls go to voicemail.

Americans received an astounding 47.8 billion robocalls in 2018, a number already surpassed in the first ten months of 2019, according to YouMail, a private robocall blocking service.

In addition to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), leaders in this legislative effort include Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), and Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Mike Doyle (D-PA), and John Shimkus (R-IL).

The final bill omits some protections that had been included in the version of the bill passed by the House this past summer.  Among those protections were clarifying the consent requirement and the covered robocalling technologies, to close off avenues for robocallers to seek to evade compliance.

“With all the important new protections this bill gives consumers from unwanted and abusive robocalling, the final bill is also a missed opportunity to give them other needed protections,” said Mahoney. “We will continue to work with Congress and the FCC to get consumers all the protections they need.  Still, we are very glad Congress is taking these steps, and we look forward to helping see that these new protections are fully implemented.”

Contact: David Butler, dbutler@consumer.org

Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit membership organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. For 80 years, CR has provided evidence-based product testing and ratings, rigorous research, hard-hitting investigative journalism, public education, and steadfast policy action on behalf of consumers’ interests. Unconstrained by advertising or other commercial influences, CR has exposed landmark public health and safety issues and strives to be a catalyst for pro-consumer changes in the marketplace. From championing responsible auto safety standards, to winning food and water protections, to enhancing healthcare quality, to fighting back against predatory lenders in the financial markets, Consumer Reports has always been on the front lines, raising the voices of consumers.