In April 2017, Americans received around 3.4 billion annoying – and often illegal – robocalls, according to YouMail, one of the many companies currently helping people block telemarketer harassment through cell phone apps and home phone answering machine add-ons. YouMail’s number – 3.36 billion robocalls in a single month – is a new record, but it might not tell the whole story, since the company was only able to directly track robocalls placed to cell phones that have installed its call-blocking app.
As Robocalls Surge, Lawmakers Search For Solutions
In any event, robocalls are worse than they’ve ever been, especially now that most of us are attached to a cell phone at all hours of the day.
Lawmakers aren’t taking the surge in harassing calls lying down. In November, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Ajit Pai, passed a new set of regulations that allow phone companies to voluntarily block calls that they think could be illegal.
And committees in both the House and Senate have held high-profile hearings on stemming the tide of robocalls within the last two weeks, the New York Times reports.
RAY BAUM’s Act Increases Pressure On “Spoofed” Caller ID
Several important pieces of legislation have already been passed, including RAY BAUM’s Act, a bill authorized by the House of Representatives in March and signed into law by President Trump shortly after, which requires the FCC to expand and clarify its prohibition on “spoofed” robocalls, in which callers conceal or alter their caller ID.
The problem, as always, is that companies and individuals who are willing to break federal law by placing illegal robocalls aren’t particularly concerned with following any new federal regulations or laws. These people are already breaking the law, after all.
New York State Senator Hopes To Expand Robocall Laws
To tackle the problem, one New York State lawmaker is trying to go even further, Observer says. On Monday, May 7, 2018, Brad Hoylman, a State Senator representing Manhattan, announced his new legislation that would expand on the federal consumer protections currently in place.
At the moment, anyone who uses an autodialer system and / or prerecorded voice messages to place robocalls is required to secure the call recipient’s consent, but only in the case of cell phones. The rules for home phone or landline calls are a little different. Telemarketers have every right to place autodialed calls to your home phone without consent; prerecorded voice messages, on the other hand, are still illegal unless you provide your express consent in writing.
Should Regulators Distinguish Between Cell & Landlines?
Hoylman’s proposal is to knock down the distinction between cell phones and landlines. Under the legislator’s new bill, anyone who wants to place an autodialed call that isn’t being sent for emergency purposes would need to obtain your consent to do so, whether you’re answering on your cell phone or your home phone.
And revoking your consent to receive robocalls would become easier than ever. Consumers would be allowed to revoke their consent “by any reasonable means,” an ambiguous and subjective phrase that would ultimately be fleshed out in court.
Extending The Right To File A Lawsuit
In addition to these reforms, Hoylman proposes creating a new private cause of action for consumers whose rights under the bill are violated. If passed, the bill would allow private individuals to file civil lawsuits on their own behalf against scammers and businesses who break the law.
The federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act already creates a similar cause of action, but since Hoylman’s legislation would significantly expand the definition of illegal robocalls, consumers in New York would be able to file suit over a much-wider range of robocall activities.
Should Telecom Providers Be Forced To Block Robocalls?
But the lawmaker’s biggest proposal may be to require telephone companies to provide consumers with free robocall-blocking tools.
“Enough is enough,” Hoylman said in a statement. “By allowing robocalls to continue unabated, telephone companies effectively condone this harassment and undermine the broader public trust.”
Opponents Say Increased Regulation Will Reduce Investment
Conservative and libertarian critics of the proposal argue that, while reducing the number of robocalls is certainly a worthy project, instituting more regulations on telephone service providers will only make it harder for upstart companies to enter the market by raising the cost of providing phone service.
And phone companies themselves have fought the idea of implementing robocall-blocking technology, arguing that they have a legal obligation to connect any calls placed through their service. Since 2015, however, when the FCC authorized phone service providers to discriminate between incoming calls, that rationale has become unworkable.
Major service providers, including AT&T and T-Mobile, have already implemented free call blocking programs to their users, but most landline service providers haven’t followed suit.
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