Robocall Bill Heads to President's Desk

Both sides of the aisle and the Hill were claiming victory, and sharing credit, for Senate passage of the bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED Act), a bill that would mandate free default robocall blocking, something the FCC has authorized and pushed carriers to adopt by the end of the year anyway, threatening to mandate it if that didn't happen.

Related: Cable Ops Oppose Robocall Blocking Mandate

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.

"President Expected to Sign Thune-Markey Bill to Crack Down on Illegal Robocalls," said a press release from the office of Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) which pointed out that the senate first passed the bill in May, then the House passed a modified version in Dec. 4, and now the Senate had passed that House version and it was headed to the President's desk.

Related: House Approves Omnibus Robocall Bill

"The TRACED Act cracks down on scammers by requiring phone carriers to authenticate whether calls are legitimate, and then blocking unverified robocalls at no charge to consumers," said Markey. "I thank Senator [John] Thune [R-S.D.] for his unwavering partnership on this important consumer protection issue. I hope the President quickly signs this bill into law so that families can enjoy a new year of family calls instead of robocalls.”

On the House side, Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), and Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta (R-Ohio) praised of the "Pallone-Thune TRACED Act," which was the name of the compromise bill.

“We’re delighted the Senate acted quickly to pass this legislation to shutdown illegal robocalls," they said. "We’re working hard to help the American people get real relief from these relentless and illegal calls. We look forward to the President signing this overwhelmingly bipartisan legislation into law very soon."

Specifically, the bill:

1. "Requires carriers to offer call-authentication technology to consumers and small businesses—in rural and urban America—at no additional charge;

2. "Requires opt-in or opt-out robocall blocking be offered at no additional charge to consumers;

3. "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;

4. "Pushes the Department of Justice to bring more criminal prosecutions against criminal robocallers;

5. "Requires the FCC to work to stop one-ring scams;

6. "Helps the FCC and responsible carriers traceback and cutoff suspect phone companies that are responsible for sending vast numbers of unlawful robocalls; and

7. "Protects patients, doctors, and hospitals from unlawful robocalls."

“We applaud Senate and House passage of the TRACED Act, and commend the bipartisan leadership on both sides of the Capitol for passing legislation that protects consumers from these frustrating calls," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association. "Illegal robocalls have flooded phones for far too long, and TRACED takes meaningful steps to keep consumers safe from scammers. We urge the president to take swift action and sign this important legislation into law.”

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.