House Approves Robocall Fine-Boosting Bill

The full House has passed HR 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.

The vote was 429 to 3. The bill must still pass the Senate and get the President's signature, but it will likely make it across that finish line given the bipartisan support for cracking down on nuisance calls.

The bill, which included five robocall-related bills in one package, passed the House Energy & Commerce Committee unanimously last week. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said she expected it would be the most popular bill the committee passed and urged passage in the full House ASAP, which in Hill time is pretty much what happened.

Among many other things, the bill boosts the FCC's fine for illegal robocalls from $1,500 per violation to $10,000 per violation.

It also creates a Hospital Robocall Protection Group within the FCC to concentrate on the scourge of scam calls to hospital staff and patients, which threaten both life and health as well as personal health information, the legislators said.

The bill allows for consumers to know which calls are being blocked and increases information sharing between phone companies and the FCC to better trace unwanted robocalls to their source.

The bill will help curb the estimated 48 billion robocalls Americans get each year, Communications Subcommittee chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) said when the committee passed it up to the House for a vote.

In fact, one of the themes of the bill's consideration in subcommittee and full committee was that legislators kept getting unwanted robocalls during the hearings to crack down on those calls.

The legislation builds on the FCC's action last month to essentially mandate robocall-blocking technology, Latta said.

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 recently clarifying that carriers can block robocalls by default and incentivizing them to add the feature at no extra charge.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), chairman of the Energy & Commerce Committee, rose during House debate in strong support of the bill, calling it "a strong and comprehensive bill that puts consumers first" and "take[s] tough and meaningful steps to protect consumers from these annoying and illegal robocalls."

“We applaud House passage of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act and look forward to the continuing work of Congress, the FCC, and industry to provide consumers with needed relief from these annoying calls," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association in a statement following passage.

“The tide is turning on the criminals who scam, spoof and rip-off millions of American consumers, and today the House put offenders on notice," said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom. "The powerful new tools approved by Congress will help beat back the robocall threat and boost the industry’s call authentication and traceback work in important ways. Special thanks to Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone, Ranking Member Walden and all the members of Congress who listened to their constituents and backed this anti-robocall plan.”

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.