Consumers Union Urges Congressional, FCC Action to Fight Robocalls in House Hearing

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Washington, D.C. — Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, today is calling for additional action from Congress and the FCC to better protect consumers from unwanted, harmful robocalls in testimony today at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing.

Despite some progress made by regulators and phone companies to limit robocalls, complaints continue to skyrocket, with consumers filing at least seven million complaints about violations of the Do Not Call list in 2017. The consumer group highlighted legislation, like the ROBOCOP Act and HANGUP Act, that would better protect consumers, as well as steps the FCC should take to ensure that consumers aren’t hounded by robocalls. The testimony also warns that essential legal protections against robocalls under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and FCC rules remain at risk.

“Despite the progress that has been made to combat robocalls, millions of consumers continue to be bombarded day and night with robocalls. These unwanted calls are not only an assault on consumer privacy and interfere with their daily lives, they are often criminal scam operations that cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union who testified at the hearing.“The Do Not Call list is simply not cutting it. Enforcement hasn’t been enough to deter illegal robocalling, and it is especially difficult to police bad actors when these calls are coming from scammers overseas who spoof their numbers to avoid being caught. Consumers deserve better protections, and there are specific actions that Congress, regulators and phone companies should be taking now to combat robocalls.”

Consumers Union outlined additional reforms that would benefit consumers, including:

  • Require anti-spoofing, call-blocking technology: The FCC should require providers to implement technology to identify and block spoofed and unwanted calls. Unblocking requests should be evaluated by a required set of criteria to ensure that consumers’ wishes are honored. Congress can assist by supporting the ROBOCOP Act, which would require the FCC to develop rules implementing this technology.
  • Ensure that consumers have strong legal protections against unwanted robocalls: The DC Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down portions of the FCC’s 2015 rules, covering the definition of an autodialer and the safe harbor for robocalls made to reassigned numbers. The FCC will likely open a proceeding to explore open issues related to the definition of an autodialer.  We urge the FCC to implement strong rules that maintain expand protections against unwanted robocalls.
  • Increase protections against unwanted debt collection calls: Congress should pass the HANGUP Act, to remove the exemption in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) for federal debt collection robocalls, and overturn the FCC’s Broadnet ruling that effectively exempts robocalls made by federal contractors.  We also urge the FCC to implement strong rules limiting those calls.
  • Empower the FTC to counter illegal calls: Congress should strengthen the Federal Trade Commission’s ability to stop abusive robocalling by allocating greater resources for enforcement and the development of anti-robocall technology. It should also remove the common carrier exemption in the FTC Act so that the FTC can directly call  on phone service providers to take action.

In 2015, Consumers Union launched its End Robocalls campaign calling on the phone companies to step up their efforts to block robocalls.  Nearly 750,000 people have joined Consumers Union’s campaign urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to offer their customers free robocall-blocking tools.

The full testimony is available here. The hearing, “Do Not Call: Combating Robocalls and Caller ID Spoofing” is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Friday, April  27. For more information, please visit www.energycommerce.house.gov