Merkley, Eshoo Introduce Legislation to Crack Down on Unwanted Robocalls and Texts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) today introduced the Regulatory Oversight Barring Obnoxious (ROBO) Calls and Texts Act of 2019.

Amid growing frustration from Americans whose cell phone are being bombarded on a daily basis, this legislation would crack down on unwanted and frequently predatory calls and text messages by creating a new division within the Enforcement Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Robocall Division.

“Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get scam calls or texts or my phone, and sadly, most Americans today can say the same,” said Merkley. “These calls are a nuisance at best, and at worst, downright predatory—threatening to put Americans in jail or cut off their Social Security if the recipient doesn’t hand over financial information. Right now, robocalls are the wild west, and consumers are paying the price for this chaos. It’s time for a concerted effort to restore order and sanity to our cell phones.”

“Americans received a staggering 48 billion robocalls last year alone, and the incessant harassment worsens daily,” Rep. Eshoo said. “It’s time for Congress to force regulators to act. The ROBO Calls and Texts Act ensures the Trump Administration moves quickly to go after bad actors while compelling providers to adopt technological standards to prevent robocalls.”

In a recent congressional hearing, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testified that robocalls are currently the single largest source of consumer complaints at the FCC, and she advocated for the creation of a dedicated division in the Enforcement Bureau to combat robocalls. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has also confirmed that robocalls are the number one source of complaints coming into the agency.

“The growing volume of robocalls is insane. It’s no wonder that these annoying calls are the number one complaint the FCC receives from consumers across the country,” said Commissioner Rosenworcel. “I’ve long believed that the agency should be organized around the issues that matter to consumers most. So kudos to Senator Merkley and Representative Eshoo for introducing this legislation to require a new robocall division at the FCC. This is a good idea to help halt the scourge of robocalls and the time to do it is now.”

Specifically, the Robocall Division created by the ROBO Calls and Texts Act would:

  • Ensure consumer protection and compliance with federal laws relating to public safety and robocalls;
  • Serve as a line of communication between the federal government and the communications industry to coordinate efforts to combat robocalls on both sides;
  • Serve as a line of communication between the FCC and other related federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration; and
  • Actively manage consumer complaints regarding robocalls and address those complaints in a timely manner.

The FCC would also be assigned the following new responsibilities:

  • Promulgate rulemaking to compel telecommunications providers to adopt technological standards to prevent robocalls no later than 90 days after enactment and periodically thereafter as appropriate;
  • Dedicate a portion of staff to conduct research that advances robocall blocking technology; and
  • Develop and provide to the general public, educational resources and materials that inform consumers of the risks associated with robocalls.

The ROBO Calls and Texts Act is supported by the National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients; the Consumer Federation of America; Consumer Action; and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.