Technology

House, Senate announce agreement on anti-robocall bill

Key lawmakers in the House and Senate on Friday announced they have drawn up a bill to stave off the scourge of robocalls in the U.S., expressing optimism that the negotiated legislation "can be signed into law by the President." 

The long-awaited anti-robocall bill, which has not been made public in its final form yet, would allow telephone carriers to block robocalls - spam calls often aimed at stealing personal information from vulnerable populations - in a "consistent and transparent" way without charging consumers any extra money, according to Friday statement from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a top member of the Senate Commerce Committee, among others.

The House and Senate have been working for months on similar legislation to address robocalls, which have been increasing in volume and aggravating millions of Americans for years. The statement on Friday signals they have negotiated agreements over several of the points of disagreement between the bills. 

"Today, we are proud to announce that we have come to an agreement in principle on legislation, the Pallone-Thune TRACED Actto combat the robocall epidemic that we believe can be signed into law by the President," the House and Senate lawmakers said in the statement. "It's time to put Americans back in charge of their phones."

The anti-robocall bill will require telephone carriers to verify calls and offer tools for their customers to block spammy calls. It will also give the Federal Communications Commission more time to investigate and punish illegal robocallers. 

The statement is also signed by the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore). and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). 

"Our agreement will require telephone carriers to verify calls and allow robocalls to be blocked in a consistent and transparent way, all at no extra charge to consumers," they said. "The agreement also gives the FCC and law enforcement the ability to quickly go after scammers." 

The lawmakers are working to finalize the bill text "in the coming days," they said. 

The final bill will likely allow for tougher penalties against the scammers who generate billions of unwanted calls each year. The number of robocallers dialing up U.S. consumers is on the rise. Some estimates say there were more than 48 billion robocalls in 2018, up almost 50 percent from the previous year.

Efforts to pass anti-robocall legislation have stalled for years, but the agreement announced Friday increases the odds that Congress will send the White House a bill before 2020.

Outbrain