Sen. Richard Blumenthal was the latest in a chorus of lawmakers from both parties to decry robocalls, an irritant that afflicts nearly anyone in the U.S. who owns a mobile phone.
The Connecticut Democrat on Monday reintroduced the so-called ROBOCOP Act that would require mobile phone companies to provide free robocall-blocking technology to their customers.
“Households across the country are harangued daily by millions of robocalls — calls that at best are a nuisance, and at worst threaten unsuspecting consumers with financial scams,” Blumenthal said in a statement last year when he introduced the bill with Democratic California Rep. Jackie Speier.
“The ROBOCOP Act restores power to consumers by requiring phone companies to provide effective technology that blocks unwanted calls at no cost to the consumer,” Blumenthal said.
Lawmakers in both chambers have recently introduced a spate of bills to strengthen the authority of federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to crack down on pesky — and sometimes illegal — robocalls amid a surge of consumer complaints in recent years.
Americans were on the receiving end of 47.8 billion robocalls last year.
Nearly half of those were from scammers, who bilk an estimated $350 million from people with mobile phones each year.
The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act, reintroduced last week by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., would improve enforcement of the Communications Act of 1934 by lengthening the statue of limitations from one to three years for violations.
The bill would also ramp up civil penalties to $10,000 per call, require service providers to adopt technology authenticating phone calls before they reach consumers’ phones and charge the FCC with implementing more rules around consumer protection.
A bipartisan group of House members put forward more limited legislation earlier this year to create a fact-finding interagency body called the Spam Calls Task Force — to be led by the attorney general and the FCC — to weigh solutions and “consider if increased criminal penalties or fines would serve as deterrent.”
Last week, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet held a hearing on ways to combat robocalls.
Emily Kopp contributed to this report.