Is this the end of robocalls?

Consumer advocates are breathing easier this week as new federal legislation against robocalls is on the brink of being signed into law after moving swiftly through the House and the Senate.

In a near-unanimous vote last week of 417-3, the House passed a bipartisan bill that will create new technologies aimed at identifying robocalls before they reach your phone.

“It’s a good step to tackle one of the problems with robocalls, and that is the problem of calling ID spoofing,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at The Consumer Federation of America.

“This bipartisan bill unquestionably moves the ball forward to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, especially by requiring that all telephone systems in the U.S. implement a coordinated authentication methodology to improve the accuracy of caller-ID displayed on our phones,” said Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center, in a statement released last week.

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence, or TRACED Act, will help the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create new systems of call authentication technologies that phone service providers can use to block robocalls.

The bill will require that phone service providers like AT&T create a caller-ID program for unauthenticated phone calls. The bill’s call-authentication framework targets unauthenticated phone numbers, so it won’t entirely block subscribers from receiving calls from unfamiliar numbers like a distant relative or a new date.

“I would expect to see a reduction in the number of unwanted robocalls people get,” Grant said.

There will be a grace period before all carriers have to implement the new authentication system. Even though the bill prohibits a separate line charge for implementing the technology, Grant cautioned consumers against expecting the anti-robocall system to come without a cost.

“If it costs the carrier money to do this, people may see it reflected in their rates, but there’s not going to be a separate charge for doing this caller-ID authentication.”

The bi-partisan bill is sponsored by Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), who reached a compromise measure after the House passed Pallone’s Stopping Bad Robocalls Act in July by a vote of 429-3. Thune’s initial version of the TRACED Act passed the Senate 97-1 in May.

Now that the co-sponsored version of the bill has passed the House, the final bill will go to the Senate. Once passed by the Senate it will head to President Trump’s desk.

Last month, six House and Senate leaders said they expect the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act to be signed into law by President Trump.

YouMail, a free robocall blocking app, reported that Americans received 5.7 billion robocalls in October 2019, a 25% increase from September.

“This is not going to be the end of unwanted robocalls,” Grant said. “It’s one of many steps that needs to be taken and it has to do with caller-ID identifications.”

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