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The Journal Gazette

  • Latta

Thursday, September 12, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

An easy call

For consumers' sake, Congress should pass telecom limits

Public Policy Polling captured attention in 2013 when it asked Americans which they preferred, Congress or a number of terribly unlikable things. Not surprisingly, some of them proved more popular than our federal lawmakers: lice, colonoscopies, root canal and Ghengis Khan, to name a few.

Telemarketers, however, proved to be more unlikable than Congress. And while the most annoying form of telemarketing, robocalls, wasn't mentioned, it surely would finish near the top of a least-wanted list today.

Which is why Congress should approve legislation to require phone providers to block the annoying practice of robocalling. Both the Senate and House have passed their own version of the bill; they should resolve differences in the legislation to extend consumer protection. U.S. Rep. Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican representing northeast Indiana's neighboring congressional district, is co-author of the STOPRobocalls Act, which was incorporated into a bill that passed the House by a 429-3 vote. It directed telecom companies to make call-blocking the default position, rather than requiring consumers to opt out. The Federal Communications Commission then adopted the rule. 

The House bill also requires phone carriers to implement call-authentication technology, aimed at the “spoofing” practice that allows robocallers to misrepresent the origin of the call. There's also a process to help rural carriers implement the technology.

It would require the Federal Communications Commission to enact safeguards so companies can't abuse robocall exemptions and ensure the federal agency has the authority and tools to quickly track down robocallers. 

In the Senate, the bipartisan Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, passed by a 97-1 vote.

In July alone, phone customers received more than 150 million robocalls per day. That's more than 1,500 calls per second, according to YouMail, a robocall blocking and tracking firm. Seventy 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, according to a survey by Consumer Reports. 

Robocalls are more than a nuisance. 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 over the previous 12 months. With an increase in spoofed robocalls that fool phone users into thinking the caller is someone in their community, an increasing number of consumers have been tricked into handing over personal information.

The current standoffs on spending bills, background checks for gun purchases and other hot-button issues aren't likely to help Congress' image in the coming weeks. But a quick agreement on robocall legislation would go a long way toward helping the institution pass carnival workers and Brussels sprouts on the likability measure.