Reason to hope for an end to the robocall plague

Everyone hates them — those annoying, never-ending, often fraudulent robocalls from scammers and telemarketers. Striking day and night, they can drive you nuts no matter how carefully you screen your calls.

Yet this year, Americans may get some relief. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to crack down on robocalls. And Congress may pass its own measures.

Under the FCC plan, phone companies would get permission — and encouragement — to block unwanted calls using new “authentication protocol” technology. Telecoms have been hesitant to do that because existing rules oblige them to ensure all calls go through, and they fear accidentally blocking important, wanted calls.

But if companies keep resisting, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told lawmakers, the agency is looking at making them use the new technology.

New York’s own Sen. Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, says Congress has its “best chance” yet of passing bipartisan legislation to squelch robocallers.

Introduced by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and John Thune (R-SD), the TRACED Act (Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act) would boost fines, give prosecutors more time to track callers and require phone companies to use the authentication protocol to filter calls.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) is also pushing a bill to let consumers stop calls they previously authorized and to require incoming calls to display verified caller IDs.

Other proposals call for optional “white lists,” which allow only pre-approved callers to get through.

It’s hard to think of anyone, aside from scammers and telemarketers, who’d oppose such measures. No one wants to be inundated with, say, sales pitches for new lines of credit, let alone scams that con you into sending money.

Even robocalls you don’t answer are unnerving. And impossible to stop: YouMail reported a whopping 47.7 billion robocalls nationwide last year, about 150 for every person in America, including infants. In April, Schumer notes, New York alone got 290 million calls, or 112 per second.

And it’s growing worse: Last year, the number of robocalls nationwide was up 57 percent over the prior year.

Washington has tried to rein in this abuse before: It first rolled out the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. Yet overseas calls and “advances” like rapid auto-dialing and the ability to fake the caller ID quickly made the registry nearly useless.

The FCC, Pai reports, gets more complaints about robocalls than anything else. “The American people are fed up,” he says.

That ought to be enough to move Congress into bipartisan action. The nation needs effective measures — fast, before we all lose our minds.

Source: Read Full Article