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Bills Introduced in House, Senate to Update ATDS Definition With Aim of Stopping Robocall Proliferation

Companion bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate aimed at expanding the definition of automated telephone dialing systems to include platforms that make calls from numbers stored on a list, as well as those that use random or sequential number generators.

Sen. Edward Markey [D-Mass.] introduced the bill in the Senate. Rep. Frank Pallone [D-N.J.] introduced the bill in the House of Representatives. Both bills are called the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.

What defines a robocall and an ATDS is currently a work in progress. The Federal Communications Commission has started the process for updating its definition of an autodialer following a March ruling from the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in which much of a 2015 Declaratory Ordered issued by the FCC was struck down, including how the FCC chose to define an ATDS. In the 2015 Order, the FCC had said that any technology which has the capacity to act as an ATDS should be considered an autodialer.

Among the talking points circulated by Sen. Markey that discuss the aims of his bill are:

  • Amending the TCPA to ensure that the FCC has the authority and the tools to take strong, quick action when they track down robocallers;
  • Allowing consumers to revoke consent they’d previously given to receive calls at any time and in any reasonable manner;
  • Creating a reassigned number database to put robocallers on notice when a telephone number they may have previously been authorized to call has been given to a new customer who hasn’t authorized their call;
  • Limiting the number of robocalls exempted from the TCPA under the FCC’s rules;
  • Requiring calls to have verified caller identification information associated with a call before the call can be put through

A copy of Sen. Markey’s proposed legislation can be found here. A copy of Rep. Pallone’s proposed legislation can be found here.

In what can possibly be considered a bad sign for anyone using an autodialer, the press release sent out by Sen. Markey’s office promoting the introduction of the bill includes quotes from two consumer advocates praising the proposed legislation.

“Senator Markey and Congressman Pallone’s bill will impact the daily lives of hundreds of millions of American consumers by addressing the escalating robocall problem,” said Margot Saunders, senior counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. “As the FCC responds to requests to clarify existing rules under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, this legislation provides a framework to ensure that the rules will put consumers’ interests first.”

“Despite the Do Not Call List and other steps that have been taken to combat robocalls, the plague of these annoying, invasive calls only continues to get worse,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports. “Consumers have had enough of being harassed by robocalls, which all-too often are also vehicles for illegal scams that cost consumers millions. Consumers Union is pleased to support the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act, which will guarantee important legal protections to reduce the hassle of robocalls, including protecting consumers from the troublesome ‘spoofed’ calls that make robocall-blocking and enforcement efforts so challenging. We applaud Senator Markey and Congressman Pallone for their leadership and look forward to working with them to pass this legislation that will make a real difference in consumers’ everyday lives,”

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