Hill Dials Up Bipartisan Robocall Legislation

House Energy & Commerce Committee leadership said Friday that they have come up with bipartisan, bicameral, legislation to combat unwanted robocalls.

The FCC is on the same page and a parallel track with various initiatives and fines for illegal robocalls, but it is one of the key constituent issues on the Hill so legislators want to put their own stake in that turf.

Signing on to the compromise bill are Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.), Energy & Commerce Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio).

Related: Cable Ops Oppose Default Robocall-Blocking Mandate

“Today, we are proud to announce that we have come to an agreement in principle on legislation, the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, to combat the robocall epidemic that we believe can be signed into law by the President,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s time to put Americans back in charge of their phones. Our agreement will require telephone carriers to verify calls and allow robocalls to be blocked in a consistent and transparent way, all at no extra charge to consumers. The agreement also gives the FCC and law enforcement the ability to quickly go after scammers. We look forward to finalizing the bill text in the coming days.”

The Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act will combine (and reconcile) the TRACED Act, which passed the Senate in May, and the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which passed the House in July.

The FCC under chairman Ajit Pai has made cracking down on unwanted calls, that number in the many billions annually, one of his signature issues. That includes clarifying that carriers can block robocalls by default and incentivizing them to add the feature at no extra charge.  

The FCC is under pressure from Congress to help consumers weed out unwanted robocalls--for one thing, legislators keep pointing out that they get such calls during hearings about how to stop them.

“Help is on the way! Thank you to these Congressional leaders for coming together to provide critical new tools to fight back against the robocall criminals scamming consumers and polluting our networks," said USTelecom President Jonathan Spalter. "This is a powerful shot in the arm to our technology driven traceback and verification work and will go a long way in helping take back our phones.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.