This bill — the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act — would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact strong consumer protections for authorized calls and empower the FCC with strong enforcement tools to rein robocallers in. It would also ensure that consumers are able to stop calls they’d previously authorized and require incoming calls to have authentic caller identification information before they’re delivered to customers. A detailed summary of this bill’s various provisions is below:
Prohibitions on Making Robocalls
In response to a recent D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the FCC’s definition of an “automatic telephone dialing system,” this section of the bill defines a “robocall” as “a call or text message made using equipment that makes a series of calls to stored telephone numbers, included telephone numbers stored on a list, or to telephone numbers produced using a random or sequential number generator; or a call made using an artificial or prerecorded voice.” This definition includes an exception for calls made on equipment requiring substantial human intervention, as demonstrated by the caller, to dial or place a call after a human initiates the series of calls.
Under this section of the bill, the FCC would be required to revise its rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to:
- Protect consumers and their privacy;
- Ensure that robocalls are only made with prior consent;
- Ensure that consumers can withdraw consent to receive robocalls;
- Prevent circumvention or evasion of laws regarding robocalls;
- Ensure robocalls are keeping records to prove that they have the consent of the people who are receiving their calls; and
- Help ensure robocalls are following the law.
This section of the bill would also allow consumers to revoke prior express consent for receiving calls at any time and in any reasonable manner.
Consumer Protections for Exemptions
This section of the bill would require the FCC to implement consumer protections on its exempted classes of robocalls. These would mirror those the FCC voted on to govern calls for student debt collection. For these calls, the consumers protections would require the FCC to specifically delineate:
- The classes or categories of parties that may make such calls;
- The classes or categories of parties that may be called;
- The purposes for which such calls may be made;
- The number of calls allowed under the exemption; and
- The obligation of the calling party to provide consumers with a conspicuous mechanism to stop receiving calls.
Reassigned Number Database and Safe Harbor
This section of the bill would require the FCC to publish a nationwide database of consumer telephone numbers that have been reassigned to other consumers. All telephone service providers would be required to report to the database.
This section of the bill would also include a safe harbor in the event of errors in the reassigned number database. Provided that the caller can 1) make a number of showings (including evidence that the previous subscriber for the number had given their express consent); 2) prove that they had searched the reassigned database within a reasonable time prior to making the call; and 3) show that the database didn’t show the number’s reassignment, they wouldn’t be subject to penalties for erroneously robocalling a reassigned number.
Statute of Limitations
This section of this bill would extend the statute of limitations for callers violating the prohibitions on autodialed calls, robocalls or spoofing to four years. This section would also allow the FCC to immediately go after bad actors, rather than requiring the agency to wait for a second offense (as is currently the case).
Annual Report to Congress
The FCC, after consultation with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), would be required to submit annual reports to Congress detailing its progress in stopping robocalls. In these reports, the FCC would also be required to provide recommendations on how to reduce nuisance calls by at least 50% year-over-year.
Deadline for Regulations Relating to Call Authentication
Within a year after this bill’s enactment, the FCC would be required to prescribe consumer protections to require telephone service providers to authenticate calls’ sources. Calls that haven’t been authenticated shouldn’t be completed unless subscribers choose to unblock such calls. Additionally, telephone service providers would be prohibited from charging subscribers for this service as an individual line item charge on their bills.
This section also specifically requires the FCC to recognize and address the burdens and barriers associated with implementing this technology. Special regard is taken with relation to rural parts of the country, where older technologies may increase the difficulty associated with implementing caller ID measurers. To the extent that some carriers, particularly in rural areas, may need additional time to implement caller ID technology, the FCC would be charged with finding alternative methods for authenticating calls while the carriers work to implement caller ID technologies.
During this bill’s consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Technology Subcommittee, four amendments were adopted by voice vote. They are detailed below:
Ending One-Ring Scams Amendment: Originally introduced in the House by Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) as H.R. 3264: the Ending One-Ring Scams Act of 2019, would require the FCC to protect consumers from one-ring scams. As part of this effort, the agency would be required to work with foreign governments to address these scams and to incentivize carriers to stop calls made to perpetrate these scams.
Locking Up Robocallers Amendment: Originally introduced in the House by Reps. Don McEachin (D-VA) & Pete Olson (R-TX) as H.R. 3325: Locking Up Robocallers Act of 2019, would require the FCC to submit evidence of certain criminal robocall violations to the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) for criminal prosecution. It would also require the FCC to publish an annual report disclosing how frequently the FCC submitted such evidence to the DOJ.
Tracing & Catching Illegal Robocallers Amendment: Originally introduced in the House by Reps. G.K Butterfield (D-NC) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) as H.R. 3434: Tracing Back and Catching Unlawful Robocallers Act, would require the FCC to register a consortium of companies engaged in private-led efforts to track back suspected unlawful robocalls’ origins. It would also create a certification process to track whether carriers have participated in private-led efforts to trace back suspected unlawful robocalls’ origins.
Additionally, this amendment would require the FCC to publish a report on carriers’ participation in private-led efforts to traceback suspected unlawful robocalls’ origins. It’d also allow the FCC to permit some carriers to not accept calls from carriers facilitating suspected unlawful robocalls.
Spam Calls Task Force Amendment: Originally introduced in the House by Reps. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Garret Graves (R-LA) as H.R. 721: the Spam Calls Task Force Act of 2019, would require the Attorney General, in consultation with the FCC, to convene an interagency working group to study the enforcement of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
Among other things, the task force would be charged with:
- Determining how federal law and budgetary constraints inhibit enforcement of the TCPA;
- Identifying existing and additional policies and programs to increase coordination between federal departments and agencies and the states for enforcing and preventing violations of the TCPA; and
- Identifying existing and potential international policies and programs to improve coordination between countries in enforcing the TCPA and similar laws.