Americans have been called by annoying and unwanted robocalls five million times in May alone. And today, the bi-partisan committee in the House of Representatives is taking a stand to curb the persistent problem of spam robocalls and spoofed calls across the U.S.
In a bipartisan bill called the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, lawmakers aim to outlaw a plethora of corrupt practices employed by scammers and legitimate business alike to fight the growing nuisance of the robocalls epidemic. It also empowers the government and regulatory bodies like the Federal Communication Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to levy heavier punishments against robocallers who violate the law.
The new anti-robocall bill was put forward by both Democrats and Republican members of the tech-focused House Energy and Commerce Committee and is scheduled to be voted upon next week. It comes following the increasing pressure on Washington to resolve the robocalls problem and the criticism the government drew for its failure to do so.
The proposed legislation would require the FCC to update its definition of what qualifies as a robocall, which would potentially subject more companies to stricter calling regulations and requirements of consent. The FCC would also have to ensure that entities would circumvent no rules or legislation by using advanced or newer robocalling technologies.
According to data released by YouMail, a company which offers a smartphone call-blocking app, more than five million robocalls were sent to Americans in May 2019 alone – a number that is double the amount from the previous two years. This highlights how much robocalls grew over time, and it pushes forward the agenda of putting an end to annoying and scamming calls.
The robocall epidemic
The effects of robocalls aren’t just mere annoyance. They create real-life problems like how a scam robocall is waking up Americans at night with a single ring to prompt them to call back which leads them to an international number that effectively skyrocket’s the victim’s phone bills. Aside from this, other modus operandi includes extorting money from unsuspecting victims by posing as a legitimate collection agency by using several call spoofing techniques.
Recently, experts argued that robocalls also affect businesses and organizations – especially medical institutions. A report reveals that hospitals have been receiving a tremendous amount of robocalls daily, which costs them a considerable amount of hospital time and limits their ability to respond to real emergencies. Worse, hospitals are also saying that if this problem escalates, it could lead up to a full-blown health crisis where hospitals can no longer respond to legitimate patient calls.
“Americans deserve to be free of the daily danger and harassment of robocalls,” New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the committee’s Democratic chairman, and Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, its top Republican, said in a joint statement. “It’s time we end the robocall epidemic and restore trust back into our phone system.”
Senate’s TRACED Act
Meanwhile, similar legislation was also voted in the Senate a few weeks ago. Known as the TRACED (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence) Act, the new law would ramp up penalties for violators, put more onus on major telecom and cell service provider to address the problem and do a better job of authenticating calls, and offer ways to block neighborhood “spoofers” and other modus operandi.
TRACED also aims to make the FCC work with the Federal Trade Commission, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to find ways to improve anti-robocall measures and prosecute offenders collectively. It will also require carriers to implement measures like SHAKEN/STIR to help consumers identify and authenticate callers.
The difference between Stopping Bad Robocalls Act and TRACED Act
While the two legislations appear similar, they have considerable differences. Jim Tyrrell, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Transaction Network Services, which powers robocall detection solutions for Tier 1 carriers and analyzes more than 1 billion call events every day to detect emerging robocaller trends and tactics told Z6Mag that new law diverges from the TRACED law because it also focuses on unwanted texts and not just calls alone.
It also has a longer statute of limitations, which is four years, as compared to the TRACED law, which has only three years of statute of limitations. It is also noteworthy that the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act has specified that robocalls should not bear additional costs to subscribers and a call authentication framework, but doesn’t specifically mention STIR/SHAKEN or a timeframe to be implemented by all voice providers– which isn’t as detailed in the TRACED Act.
Should the new legislation from both the House and the Senate as well as the freshly voted regulation from the FCC to allow carriers to block robocalls by default be enough to end the robocall epidemic? Only time can tell.