House passes anti-robocall bill

The House of Representatives on Wednesday approved an anti-robocall bill by an almost unanimous vote.

The measure also enjoys support in the Senate, making it likely the legislation reaches President Trump‘s desk before the end of the year.

The Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, named after its sponsors in the House and Senate, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), was approved by a 417-3 margin.

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Reps. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) voted against the legislation. Massie had previously opposed robocall legislation, expressing concern about giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) too much authority.

“Today the House will take strong bipartisan action to protect consumers from illegal robocalls,” Pallone said on the House floor Wednesday.

“A whopping 5.6 billion robocalls were made to Americans in November alone… Today, the House is giving Americans back control of their phones.”

Thune told reporters Tuesday that the Senate will vote on the bill, a result of months of bipartisan negotiations, either this week or next.

The TRACED Act would require phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers any extra money and require most carriers in the U.S. ensure that calls are coming from real numbers. It would give government regulators more time to find scammers and penalize them more aggressively. 

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It would also require the FCC to deliver reports to Congress about what action they are taking against illegal robocalling operations and oversee a group of companies tasked with investigating where robocalls are coming from in the first place.  

In addition, the act would push the Department of Justice to take action against illegal robocallers more often. 

The compromise bill comes as lawmakers and regulators have been fielding an escalating wave of complaints about robocalls, spam calls that dial up U.S. consumers often with the intention of stealing their personal information. More than 49 billion robocalls have been placed in the U.S. so far this year, with more than 5 billion in October alone, according to YouMail

One popular target of robocalls has been hospitals, which have been inundated with spam calls that have hampered communications and treatment.

Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Michael Burgess (R-Texas) successfully introduced an amendment to the TRACED Act which would compel the FCC to establish a Hospital Robocall Working Group tasked with developing best practices to combat robocalls.

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The House version had also sought to expand the definition of what a “robocall” is, which could have helped the FCC crack down on a wider range of unwanted calls, but that provision did not make it into the compromise bill.

Outside of Congress, federal, state and local authorities have been working in concert to crack down on the spike in illegal robocalls. Earlier this year, the FCC voted to allow phone carriers to block suspicious calls by default. 

A group of attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., joined executives from 12 phone companies last month to announce a sweeping effort to combat the plague of illegal robocalls dialing up millions of U.S. customers every year.

Many companies, including AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, have agreed to implement call-blocking technology at no extra cost to customers and offer their customers a range of “free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools.”

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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