Lawmakers tee up vote on compromise bill targeting robocalls

Lawmakers tee up vote on compromise bill targeting robocalls
© Greg Nash

The House is likely to vote an anti-robocall bill with backing in both chambers as soon as next week, increasing the likelihood that legislation cracking down on the scourge of robocalls in the U.S. will reach President TrumpDonald John TrumpLawmakers prep ahead of impeachment hearing Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Warren says she made almost M from legal work over past three decades MORE's desk before the end of the year. 

House and Senate lawmakers released the text of the compromise bill on Wednesday, showcasing the result of months of negotiations to smooth out different versions of the legislation in both chambers. The Pallone-Thune TRACED Act, named after its sponsors in the House and Senate, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneKey House and Senate health leaders reach deal to stop surprise medical bills Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills Key negotiator says deal close on surprise medical bills legislation MORE (D-N.J.) and Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCongress races to beat deadline on shutdown Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE (R-S.D.), is likely to pass easily next week. 

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“I am proud to have worked with my House and Senate colleagues on a strong, bipartisan anti-robocall bill that I believe can be signed into law," said Pallone, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a statement. "This legislation is the product of months of good-faith negotiations between the House and Senate, and will go a long way towards combatting both scam and spam calls."

"I look forward to the House voting on this bill very soon," he added.

The bill would require phone companies to block robocalls without charging customers any extra money and require most carriers in the U.S. to ensure that calls are coming from real numbers. It would give government regulators more time to find scammers and penalize them more aggressively. 

It would also require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deliver reports to Congress about how much action they are taking against illegal robocalling operations and oversee a group of companies tasked with investigating where robocalls are coming from in the first place.  

And the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act would push the Department of Justice to take action against illegal robocallers more often. 

The compromise bill comes as lawmakers and regulators have been fielding an escalating wave of complaints about robocalls, spam calls that dial up U.S. consumers often with the intention of stealing their personal information. More than 49 billion robocalls have been placed in the U.S. so far in 2019, with more than 5 billion in October alone, according to YouMail

Robocalls have offered a rare glimmer of bipartisan agreement. The House and Senate have both passed anti-robocall bills near unanimously this year before conferencing them. 

The House version had sought to expand the definition of what a "robocall" is, which could have helped the FCC crack down on a wider range of unwanted calls, but that provision did not make it into the compromise bill.

Other House amendments did make it in, however, including a provision that would initiate a proceeding to protect customers from “one-ring” scams, which occur when fraudulent calls only ring once, encouraging the recipient to call back the number and potentially rack up fees. 

Federal, state and local authorities have been working in concert to crack down on the spike in illegal robocalls. Earlier this year, the FCC voted to allow phone carriers to block suspicious calls by default. 

A group of attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., joined executives from 12 phone companies Thursday to announce a sweeping effort to combat the plague of illegal robocalls dialing up millions of U.S. customers every year. And in August, attorneys general from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. joined executives from 12 phone companies to unveil a set of anti-robocall principles and practices

Many companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Comcast, have agreed to implement call-blocking technology at no extra cost to customers and offer their customers a range of "free, easy-to-use call blocking and labeling tools."