It’s an issue that affects almost every American. For many, it is a daily problem. Robocalls have long been irritating, but in recent years they have elevated themselves from minor nuisance to major frustration. In 2018, there were 48 billion robocalls made in the United States alone. This represents not only about a 60 percent increase from the number of calls in 2017, it is also equivalent to 147 robocalls a year for every man, woman, and child in the United States, not all of whom own phones of course.
Despite the rise in public frustration, the governmental response to this issue has been slower than many would prefer. There are, though, signs that the response is gaining speed. There have been two major developments in the past month that seem to promise consumers an upcoming respite from the robocall storm. The first of these moves comes from the FCC. For many years, telecom service providers have hesitated to deploy widespread call blocking tools because of uncertainty surrounding whether or not the methods would be legal under FCC rules and regulations. There is certainly a question about their legality, and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai decided to take action on the matter. In a move that will attempt to deal with a robocall even before it reaches the cell phone of a consumer, the FCC voted on June 6 to allow and encourage phone companies to start blocking these robocalls by default.
The second move has garnered far more attention and media coverage. Recently, the United States Senate passed, by a vote of 97 to 1, the TRACED Act. It was so overwhelmingly supported that by the time it was actually put to a vote on the floor, there were 80 cosponsors for the bill. After passage in the Senate, it will travel to the House to be voted on, but it is unclear at this point when that might occur. The Act makes huge changes to the penalties related to unwanted robocalls and the procedures by which the FCC can pursue them. The Act would add a fine of up to $10,000 per call for offenders. Further, it allows the FCC to take action on these calls after a much longer time than previously allowed. Currently, the statute of limitations on robocall actions is 1 year. Should the Act pass, that statute of limitations would be extended to 3 years. This aspect is very important, as due to the massive amounts of calls the FCC would have more time not only to start a legal action but also to investigate and identify the offenders more thoroughly. Amongst the other items in this Act, there is a provision that allows increased amounts of coordination between various enforcement agencies.
The Act has seen a massive outpouring of support expressed by the general public, who has filed more complaints about robocalls to the FCC and the FTC than any other issue. State Attorney Generals from every state in the United States have expressed support. The FCC, FTC, and several consumer groups have praised the bill as well. With 80 cosponsors in the Senate and similar bills already up for consideration in the House, it is hard to imagine this Act in some way shape or form not making its way to the President’s desk. With the methods and changes proposed in the Act and the potential new FCC regulations, we may just see the number of robocalls be curtailed, and offending parties prosecuted.