Robocallers are pulling out all the stops to stop the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. In a grand victory for our society that is plagued by annoying robocalls, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (H.R. 3375) was just voted on unanimously by the full U.S. House Commerce Committee to go to the floor. This bipartisan bill will strengthen our robocall law and should pass the House unanimously and sail through the Senate.
Americans were hit with 5.2 billion robocalls in May 2019, an eye-popping increase of 370% since December 2015 (see robocallindex.com). These billions of robocalls are the #1 complaint in our country today (with literally millions upon millions of people complaining every year) and everyone wants them to stop… right? Wrong!
There is heavy lobbying going on by the angry robodialing industry and their ilk who rival tobacco and pharmaceutical as the most anti-consumer in our country. The robodialing special interests like ACA International (these “junk debt” buyers and debt collectors actually sued the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to invalidate America’s existing robocall law) are vehemently opposed to the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. These big debt collectors, con artists and telemarketers are in their “do and say anything” mode looking for political puppets to do their bidding. But to loosely quote a few members of Congress, “if I want to have a political future, I must help strengthen our robocall laws.”
Want to know the evil plan? Let’s go: redefine the term “robodialer” in a way that covers no robodialer in existence today! Let that sink in. So, how can the robodialing industry, that created the epidemic of unwanted robocalls that we endure daily, possibly think they could get away with this? Here’s how: the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) – our law that puts prohibitions on robocalls – gives the FCC the ability to provide guidance concerning the TCPA’s goal to help protect consumers from unwanted and illegal robocalls. The robodialers, which obviously are mostly devious debt collectors, scammers and scofflaw telemarketers, are inundating the FCC with a plethora of petitions claiming they desperately need “clarification” of what it means to make an automatic call. These preposterous pleas for clarification are just about breaking the law for money versus following it and would be laughable if they weren’t so dangerous to our privacy and serenity.
The lawyers representing robodialers (insert lawyer joke here) have been laughing behind the scenes claiming they have bamboozled the FCC into trying to rewrite the law. However, the FCC’s Chairman, Ajit Pai, is smarter than the average bear — also a lawyer plus Harvard graduate — and doesn’t seem to be taking the bait. Due to our robocall epidemic, Mr. Pai has been in the news a lot recently and says he hears the peoples’ cries for robocall relief and indicated he will not assist robodialers in making the problems they created even worse.
The telecommunications industry is also fighting the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. Why, you ask? Same answer, money. Telephone carriers (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) make money on every single connected call. The new law would require them to make sure the caller ID information is coming from a valid caller. What? Outrageous! Ha. Not. It’s super simple. They can easily block unwanted, illegal, and harassing calls and texts. In fact, they actually do block some, while simultaneously claiming that they aren’t allowed to, and get this, they also begged for “clarification” of whether they could block calls. Chairman Pai recently answered their disingenuous clarification requests stating the carriers have always been able to block calls and even introduced a basic policy they should have already been following called STIR/SHAKEN.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act is our law (act) to protect consumers from telephone systems known as robodialers. Words matter, and these important words are right there in the law’s title. Seems so simple. The law states it’s illegal to make a robocall. Period. In other words, all calls made with a robodialer (referred to in the statute as an “automatic telephone dialing system” (ATDS) or autodialer) are illegal in the United States of America unless you provided your “express consent” to receive them. The law carries a seemingly stiff penalty of a minimum of $500 for each robocall made without consent and up to $1,500 per call if they are knowingly or willfully breaking the law. “Robocalls” also include text messages and pre-recorded messages. The sponsor of the TCPA, Senator Hollings, described robocalls (blend of robot and calls) as the “scourge of modern civilization” in 1991 when the law was first enacted and robocalls were but a tiny fraction of what they are today. These seemingly high penalties have not come close to deterring this scourge because they make so much money breaking the law, and to quote my 6-year-old son, “it’s all about the money honey.”
Nothing is funny (honey) about robocalls, or so I thought, until I worked with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on the HBO robocall segment. If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube, get some popcorn, put on your fuzzy socks, and watch him repeatedly robocall the FCC to tell them they have “won a chance to lower robocalls in America today.” Humor brings us together, and hating robocalls should also bring us all together. To quote John, “[t]he point is everybody is annoyed by robocalls. Hatred of them might be the only thing that everyone in America agrees on now.”
Everyone in America agrees and hates robocalls except those who want to unleash a bigger plague of robocalls on our civilization.
This is the first article in our new blog series called “Robocalls In America” by Billy Howard.