Time to pick up the robocall bill
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As Congress returns to the Hill this week, members are facing decisions on several divisive issues. But at least one problem should receive quick resolution: it’s time to end the scourge of robocalls that intrude on Americans’ daily lives.

Both the Senate and House have passed legislation to curb robocalling, and now lawmakers must resolve the differences in the bills to ensure maximum consumer protections against these pervasive and unsolicited calls.

The numbers are staggering: in the month of July alone, Americans faced more than 150 million robocalls per day -- or more than 1,500 calls per second, according to the robocall blocking and tracking firm YouMail. A recent nationally-representative survey by Consumer Reports found 70 percent of U.S. consumers have stopped answering their phones if they don’t recognize the number or if the caller’s number is anonymous; 63 percent said they let most calls go to voicemail. Of the 535 members of Congress, just four voted against the recent bills to take on robocalling.

Unwanted robocalls aren't just disruptive and annoying. They can result in people falling prey to costly scams. The call blocking firm Truecaller estimated in April that consumers lost $10.5 billion to phone scams in the past 12 months. The situation has grown worse with the rise of “spoofed” robocalls that trick consumers into thinking the caller is someone they know, or someone from their neighborhood.

While Congress has been working on bills, the FCC has also taken steps to try to help consumers. And a dozen large telephone companies recently agreed to a deal with state attorneys general to implement new technology to spot and block robocalls before they get to consumers’ phones, and provide subscribers with call blocking settings at no charge.

That deal marks a victory for consumers, but it doesn’t carry the force of federal law, and it fails to include all phone service providers. That’s why we need Congress to step in with clear rules that apply to the entire industry.

It’s essential that lawmakers send the strongest bill possible to the president. That means requiring all phone companies to implement caller ID authentication and call-blocking technology at no cost to the consumer.

The final bill should also strengthen the FCC’s powers to impose penalties for violations; direct the agency to issue regulations to clarify the law to better ensure automated calls and texts cannot be made without the consumer’s consent; and require the creation of a database for callers to confirm that the owner of the number they intend to call has given consent.

There is widespread, bipartisan agreement on the need to take action against these robocalls. It's an epidemic that impacts all of us, no matter where we stand in the political spectrum, so let's come together to get a bill across the finish line.

Maureen Mahoney is a Policy Analyst for Consumer Reports.