Consumers Union Supports Bill to Hold Phone Companies Accountable For Taking Action

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Representative Speier Introduces Bill Requiring Phone Companies to Offer Free Tools to Block Unwanted Robocalls

This bill will ensure that phone companies take action and provide consumers with the tools they need to stop being harassed by unwanted calls that ring day in and day out.

Phone companies would be required to offer their customers free tools to block robocalls under legislation introduced today by Representative Jackie Speier. The bill holds phone companies accountable for taking action to stem the tide of unwanted calls, which have become rampant in recent years, according to Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

“Robocalls have become epidemic but the phone companies have been slow to provide their frustrated customers with relief,” said Tim Marvin, who heads up Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign. “This bill will ensure that phone companies take action and provide consumers with the tools they need to stop being harassed by unwanted calls that ring day in and day out.”

Representative Speier’s bill directs the Federal Communications Commission to issue regulations within 18 months after it is enacted requiring phone companies to offer their customers free tools to identify and block automated robocalls. Robocalls from public safety agencies or calls that a customer consents to receive would not be blocked. Phone customers would have to opt in to take advantage of the tools, leaving that choice entirely up to them.

Last year, Consumers Union issued a report that identified a number of existing technologies that phone companies could use to block unwanted robocalls from reaching their customers. Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign (http://www.endrobocalls.org) has mobilized hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country to demand that the nation’s top phone companies offer their customers free call-blocking tools to stop unwanted robocalls. So far, over 600,000 people have signed Consumers Union’s petition urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to take action.

Recently, Time Warner Cable announced that it is making it easier for their digital phone customers to take advantage of Nomorobo, a leading third party robocall-blocking tool. TimeWarner Cable customers can now turn Nomorobo on and off through a one-click adjustment to the online settings on their digital phone account. But so far, none of the other major phone companies have offered a similar option.    

The Primus Telemarketing Guard effectively blocks robocalls and has been available at no extra cost to traditional landline and digital phone customers in Canada for years. But phone companies in the U.S. are not offering a similar service to their traditional landline customers.

Americans have registered nearly 223 million phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list, yet robocalls are more common than ever before. Last year, the FTC received over 3.5 million complaints from the public about unwanted calls, many from crooks or companies that flagrantly violate the law. Telephone scammers target the elderly and other vulnerable consumers, resulting in an estimated $350 million in financial losses annually.

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Michael McCauley

David Butler