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Consumer Reports praises House vote for bill to help curb robocalls

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House today voted 417 to 3 in favor of a bipartisan bill to provide new tools and legal authority to crack down on the flood of unwanted robocalls.  The Senate is expected to take up the measure in the days ahead.

Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst for Consumer Reports, said, “The House vote is a major victory in the long fight to curb abusive robocalls. This is another important step toward a national law to help us take our phones back from the robocallers.  People are sick and tired of being harassed by robocalls, day and night. They disrupt our lives, and they can be scams by people who want to steal your money and exploit your personal information.

“The next step is for this bill to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President. And then we’ll keep working for more protections above and beyond this bill to crack down on robocalls.”

For years, Consumer Reports has been working with members of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to advance reforms to limit robocalls.

Congress enacted a law called the Telephone Consumer Protection Act in 1991 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 bill approved today by the House is the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal  Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or TRACED Act.  The bill helps address problems with robocalls in several important ways.  It 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.

“Ensuring that phone companies are required to provide effective anti-robocall technology, at no charge, has long been a top priority for Consumer Reports, and 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 the House passed this 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.