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The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act: Deconstructed

Reintroduced by Rep. Frank Pallone, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act is another attempt to strengthen the TCPA and the FCC’s fight against “robocalls.”

March 5, 2019

In February 2019, Rep. Frank Pallone reintroduced the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (“SBRA” HR 946) in yet another attempt to strengthen the TCPA and the FCC’s fight against “robocalls.” This bill was originally proposed by Rep. Pallone back in June of 2018 when he joined forces with Sen. Ed Markey (hmm, that name sounds familiar with another Act under a different name, doesn’t it?). The previous version of this bill did not move beyond the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But now that Pallone is the House Energy and Commerce Chairman, he is trying to pass this legislation to amend the TCPA.

A press release announcing the bill’s introduction states:

“Pallone’s bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enact strong consumer protections for authorized calls and empower the FCC with strong enforcement tools to reign in robocallers.”

This same press release even identifies that robocalls can be “initiated by legitimate companies,” so why does this acknowledgment of the many legal enterprises delivering wanted calls completely disappear from the content of the bill itself? Why does this legislation seem to focus on making things more difficult for good actors who communicate with patients, members, subscribers, customers and those in need of emergency services?

Let’s deconstruct this bill to investigate this observation more deeply.

Defining the “robocall:”

First off, this bill wants to remove the references to autodialer technology and artificial or prerecorded voice to replace them with the term “robocall” … which is being defined as:

“A) a call made using equipment that makes a series of calls to stored telephone numbers, including numbers stored on a list, or to telephone numbers produced using a random or sequential number generator, except for a call made using only equipment that the caller demonstrates requires substantial additional human intervention to dial or place a call after a human initiates the series of calls; or B) using an artificial or prerecorded voice.”

How are we defining “substantial additional human intervention” here? Do we not think bad actors have access to voice-assisted technologies where they could initiate a series of calls via a piece of equipment, “intervening” as “humans” in the form of multiple prompted voice commands?

The manner of revoking prior express consent:

Currently, in the TCPA, consumers can revoke consent through reasonable means. It looks like Pallone found this to be unreasonable, so this bill now proposes the following:

“prior express consent may be revoked at any time and in any reasonable manner, regardless of the context in which consent was provided.”

Now, is there any obligation that the calling party should be informed of this revocation? Surely lawmakers are fully aware that consumers can add numbers to a block list through an app or through a solution being provided by their carrier. This is a slippery slope to more TCPA litigation against good robocallers (which is the opposite of what this act is trying to stop … right?).

The reassigned number database:

This is where things really get interesting. The reassigned number database is all about making the good robocallers check a database for reassigned phone numbers. The bad robocallers don’t care if a number is in a database or not, they’ll call whoever they want, so what does this have to do with stopping bad robocalls?

The bill then places requirements on the service providers managing the numbers of subscribers to add reassigned numbers to a central repository. Because … putting all consumers’ phone numbers into one central repository is an incredible idea to protect the privacy and security of such data. We do know that storing large repositories of sensitive data in a centralized location is not a good idea, right? Hello, vulnerabilities!

And we’re not even going to ‘go there’ with the Safe Harbor statement that subsequently follows in the same section…

Caller ID authentication technology:

Under this technology requirement, providers of voice services would also be required to verify that any caller identification information transmitted in connection with a call is accurate. Seems obvious that accurate caller ID would be on the wishlist, however, today, even good robocallers are struggling with the services provided to successfully associate their identity with their numbers.

It is NOT the fault of the good robocaller if the terminating carrier is using an outdated repository to pull the name associated with a number, yet it is the good robocallers who are suffering the consequences. Also, most consumers don’t even have enhanced caller ID functionality turned on on their devices.

Some key points included in this proposed legislation seem to be missing any homework completed in advance to verify:

  1. If the technologies being required even exist
  2. Whether the standards for the technology have been written or are still being written
  3. If the stated requirements even align with the technology being referenced. Scope creep, anyone?

For a video review of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, as presented by Numeracle’s Founder & CEO, Rebekah Johnson, please enjoy the following:

“The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act: Deconstructed,” on Bekah Speaks, by Numeracle

As the industry continues to advance in technologies and protocols to protect both consumers and legal call originators, Numeracle would love to work with you to ensure your unique challenges and perspectives are being heard. To bring your experiences to the table and learn how you can become a part of the solution, get in touch today.


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