FCC Proposes $116M Fine for Illegal Robocalls, Rosenworcel Wants FCC to be able to Collect

Irony alert. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a fine of $116 million against a company accused of making illegal robocalls to the toll-free numbers of businesses and using prerecorded messages to inform the businesses about the dangers of scam calls and telling the businesses to report scam calls to regulators, carriers, and an entity the company controlled called “ScammerBlaster.” The chair of the FCC used the announcement of the fine to call on Congress to change its laws and allow the FCC to attempt to collect on its fines on its own, rather than being required to hand the account over to the Department of Justice for collection.

The company, called ChariTel, and its owner, Thomas Dorsher, are accused of making nearly 10 million robocalls in a two-month span in early 2021 as a means of generating toll-free dialing fees for the company. When calling toll-free numbers, the toll free service provider, typically a long distance carrier, pays the caller’s local exchange carrier for originating the call and performing a query on the toll free database. The called party — the businesses that were contacted in this case — pay the toll free service provider for completing the call. In some situations, the local exchange carrier will share its compensation with its customers to have more calls made through its network. In this case, Dorsher used the money he received from his carrier to fund a separate robocall operation.

Dorsher and his companies now have a chance to respond to the proposed fine before it is finalized.

While it has assessed hundreds of millions of dollars in fines against entities accused of making illegal robocalls, only $7,000 of that had been collected as of 2009, according to published reports. That makes the federal government not a very good debt collector. Jessica Rosenworcel, the chair of the FCC, wants Congress to give her agency the power to collect on its fines itself, rather than being required to have the Justice Department do it.

“This fine is big. But it also calls attention to the fact we need new rules of the game,” she said in a statement. “We have issued many fines just like this one. But after we do, we have to hand them over to our colleagues at the Department and Justice and hope for further action. I like hope. But instead of wishing for the best, I would like the certainty of this agency being able to go to court directly and collect fines against these bad actors — each and every one of them. This will take a change in the law and we need Congress to fix that. But I think this is robocall change worth fighting for.”

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