House Approves Comprehensive Robocall Bill

The House has voted overwhelmingly to approve the bipartisan TRACED Act, a Senate bill (S. 151) that would crack down on unwanted robocalls. The vote was 417-3. 

The bill has already passed the Senate so it now heads to the President's desk. 

Caller ID and spam blocking app Truecaller released a report this week that showed spam robocalls were up fivefold in 2019, up from 7% of spam calls to 35%. 

Among other things, the bill would give the FCC civil fining authority of up to $20,000 per call for those who "intentionally flout" telemarketing restrictions. That could add up given that, by some estimates, spam calls make up over 40% of all calls. It would also extend the statute of limitations for taking action against illegal robocalls from one year to three.  

The bill would help punish bad actors--the FCC could seek financial penalties for misleading calls--and verify good calls, said its backers. It would also require carriers to provide default blocking at no extra cost. 

Related: Cable Ops Oppose Default Robocall-Blocking Mandate 

The compromise bill was introduced last month 

The Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act combines (and reconciles) the TRACED Act, which passed the Senate in May, and the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which incorporated five robocall bills, and passed the House in July. 

Specifically, according to Energy & Commerce, the bill:

  • "Requires carriers to offer call-authentication technology to consumers and small businesses—in rural and urban America—at no additional charge;
  • "Requires opt-in or opt-out robocall blocking be offered at no additional charge to consumers;
  • "Gives the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the ability to step up enforcement actions against unlawful robocalls with a longer statute of limitations and increased fines in certain cases;
  • "Pushes the Department of Justice to bring more criminal prosecutions against criminal robocallers;
  • "Requires the FCC to work to stop one-ring scams;
  • "Helps the FCC and responsible carriers traceback and cutoff suspect phone companies that are responsible for sending vast numbers of unlawful robocalls; and
  • "Protects patients, doctors and hospitals from unlawful robocalls."

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee that has principal oversight of the issue, said the bill provided meaningful solutions and was a great piece of legislation. (The Thune in the bill's name is John Thune [R-S.D]). 

"This is important legislation because unlawful robocalls are not only a nuisance," said Pallone, "they are also undermining our entire phone system and consumers' safety as a result. Too often Americans simply will not pick up their phones, out of fear that a robocall is on the other end of the line."

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), ranking member of the Energy & Commerce Committee, called it a good bill, though warned that scammers would try to do an end-around carrier efforts to stop them, so it was good that the bill included reports back to Congress on what else might be needed. 

“Here’s why the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act is a massive achievement and a landmark consumer protection bill: It supercharges the technology and traceback tools we know will cut down the illegal robocalls that are hijacking our phones and polluting our communications networks," said USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter. "The robocall battle won’t be won overnight, but today consumers notched a big victory against a determined enemy." 

“Robocalls have been flooding our phones for years, causing many Americans to even stop answering their phones," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "We applaud House passage of the TRACED Act, and commend the bipartisan leadership of Senator Thune and Congressman Pallone for passing legislation that protects consumers from this daily aggravation. The TRACED Act is an important step to help alleviate Illegal robocalls and keep consumers safe from scammers.”

"I applaud the House for passing the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act," said Competitive Carriers Association president Steven K. Berry. "All carriers care about providing their customers with trusted voice communications and I commend Congress for taking steps to implement effective call authentication programs that address this overwhelming consumer complaint."

“ACA Connects is pleased that Congress has reached a bipartisan consensus on legislation to protect consumers from unwanted and illegal robocalls," said ACA Connects President Matt Polka. "ACA Connects members are eager to bring relief to their customers from the torrent of nuisance calls and scams, and to that end," Polka said. "ACA Connects is pleased that the bill takes into account the unique implementation challenges facing smaller providers. With the bill now headed to the Senate, we look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders to bring an end to the robocalls scourge.”

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.