On July 24, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed new, comprehensive robocall reform. Passed by a vote of 429-3, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (“SBRA”) would give the Federal Communications Commission novel methods to enforce existing anti-robocall laws in addition to allowing the FCC to go after violators more strictly. Beyond giving the FCC the ability to levy an additional penalty of up to $10,000 for intentional violations, the SBRA also gives the FCC up to three years to go after robocall violators – a big extension from the one year it has under current law. The SBRA would also task the FCC with creating a robocall working group specifically to help hospitals clamp down on unlawful robocalls. Finally, under the SBRA, telecom providers are directed to implement a caller ID authentication technology free-of-charge for customers to block spoof calls that display legitimate-looking numbers.
Most notably for TCPA followers, however, the version of the SBRA that passed the House does not include the expanded definition of automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) under the TCPA. Lawmakers initially proposed to expand the definition of ATDS to include systems that dialed from a list of numbers; however, the version of the SBRA that ultimately passed the House did not include this definition.
The passage of the SBRA comes on the heels of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence, or TRACED Act, which passed the Senate nearly unanimously in May. Like the SBRA, the TRACED Act would expand the FCC’s enforcement options to pursue robocall violators, also including three years for the FCC to go after violators and the ability to levy fines of up to $10,000 per illegal call. Service providers would be required to adopt the agency’s SHAKEN/STIR call authentication procedures, which are intended to make it more difficult for scammers to spoof numbers.
The SBRA and TRACED Act are the first Congressional acts to cross their respective chamber finish lines in what was a crowded spring of anti-robocall rhetoric. Those efforts included the following additional legislative proposals:
|Bill Name||Bill Number||Date Introduced||Summary|
|The Spam Calls Task Force Act of 2019||H.R. 721||1/23/2019||The Spam Calls Task Force Act requires the Attorney General, in consultation with the FCC, to convene an interagency working group to study the enforcement of the TCPA. Among other things, the task force shall: (1) determine how federal law and budgetary constraints inhibit enforcement of the TCPA; (2) identify existing and additional policies and programs to increase coordination between federal departments and agencies and the states for enforcing and preventing violations of the TCPA; and (3) identify existing and potential international policies and programs to improve coordination between countries in enforcing the TCPA and similar laws. The bill also requires the task force to consider how several policies could improve the enforcement of the TCPA.|
|Robo Calls Off Phones Act (“Robo COP Act”)||H.R. 805||1/28/2019||Expands Do-Not-Call Registry protection to include politically-oriented recorded message phone calls.|
|Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls Act of 2019 (“HANGUP Act”)||H.R. 1421||2/28/2019||The HANGUP Act would rescind Section 301 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 exempting calls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States” from the TCPA so that these debt collectors did not have to get consent from consumers before calling. Notably, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently found the exemption created by Section 301 to be unconstitutional.|
|Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2019||H.R. 1575||3/6/2019||The Robocall Enforcement Enhancement Act would: (1) increase the statute of limitations for illegal spoofing to three years; (2) increase the time the FCC has to impose a forfeiture, after it issues a notice of apparent liability, to three years for illegal robocalls; and (3) allows the FCC to impose a forfeiture against illegal robocallers without first issuing a citation.|
|The Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act (the “ROBOCOP Act”)||H.R. 2298||4/12/2019||In addition to providing requirements for carriers regarding call verification, authentication, and blocking, the ROBOCOP Act establishes a private right of action to enjoin or recover damages for violations of the new call blocking requirements in the bill. States may also bring civil actions for a pattern or practice of a failure to provide the call blocking required by the bill. The bill further makes it unlawful for persons to intentionally interfere with call blocking technology with the intent to cause harm.|
|The Regulatory Oversight Barring Obnoxious ‘(ROBO)’ Calls and Texts Act (“ROBO Calls and Texts Act”)||H.R. 2355||4/26/2019||The ROBO Calls and Texts Act would require the FCC to establish a Robocalls Division within the Enforcement Bureau that specifically addresses the issue of robocalls. That division would be charged with: (1) ensuring consumer protection and compliance with federal laws relating to public safety and robocalls; (2) serving as a line of communication between the federal government and the communications industry to coordinate efforts to combat robocalls; (3) actively managing robocall consumer complaints; and (4) serving as a line of communication between the FCC and other related federal agencies regarding the issue of robocalls, among other things.|
|Bill Name||Bill Number||Date Introduced||Summary|
|Seniors Fraud Prevention Act of 2019||S. 512||2/14/2019||Establishes an office within the FCC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection to advise on the prevention of fraud targeting seniors, which includes establishing procedures for lodging complaints.|
|Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone calls Act of 2019 (“HANGUP Act”)||S. 626||2/28/2019||Repeals a provision of the 2015 Budget Act which allows debt collectors to robocall and text – without consent – those who owe a debt to, or have a debt guaranteed by, the federal government.|
|FCC Reporting Modernization Act||S. 819||3/14/2018||Enhances reporting requirements by the FCC to Congress to include an assessment of the robocall problem and the FCC’s enforcement efforts|