On behalf of their consumer residents, a group of 25 state Attorneys General sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation urging the lawmakers to pass the HANGUP Act.
A provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 amended the Communications Act of 1934 to permit debt collection robocalls to consumers' cellphones if the calls are made pursuant to the collection of debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States. In response, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) introduced S. 2235, the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls Act of 2015 and the AGs called upon lawmakers to move the bill forward.
"It is inappropriate to grant debt collectors the right to harass citizens simply because the debt has a nexus to the federal government when the law specifically prohibits all other private and public entities, including political callers, from doing so," the AGs wrote, particularly as the largest number of consumer complaints received by their offices are about unwanted telemarketing calls, "with robocalls and debt collection calls at the top of the list."
Prior to the amendment, the TCPA prohibited all robocalls to cellphones, which "protected consumers and provided a mechanism to combat these unwanted calls," the signatories, including Connecticut AG George Jepsen and New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman, argued. Now consumers are facing the possibility of a "barrage of debt collection robocalls that can be misdialed, at times harassing and frustrating our citizens who pay for such calls to their cellular numbers."
The Federal Communications Commission recognizes the proliferation of robocalling, the letter noted, and in an Order issued last year, formally adopted "a rule change which states that federal law does not prohibit telecommunication service providers from offering, upon a customer's request, services intended to block unwanted calls. This clarification moved enforcement efforts forward and armed consumers with ways to prevent unwanted calls."
Federal lawmakers have "the opportunity to further advance these efforts and provide citizens with much needed protection from robocalls," the AGs concluded. "By passing the HANGUP Act to repeal the TCPA amendment, citizens will benefit from the prohibition of all robocalls to cell phones, regardless of the content of the call. We urge you to act without delay."
To read the letter from the state Attorneys General, click here.
To read S. 2235, the HANGUP Act, click here.
Why it matters: The HANGUP Act was introduced in the Senate in November 2015 and referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, where it remains. A related bill was introduced in the House in March and is currently being considered by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.