Report: Mobile call bill asked not to be advanced

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 15, 2011



WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - A bill that would allow debt collectors and other businesses to robocall consumers on their cell phones looks to be dead, at least for now.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, U.S. Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb., and Ed Towns, D-N.Y., sent a letter Wednesday to Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Terry and Towns asked Upton that the legislation, targeted by the nation's state attorneys general last week, not be advanced.

The lawmakers told Upton there is "no hope" for the bill, the newspaper reported.

Last week, the National Association of Attorneys General, or NAAG, sent a letter to members of Congress expressing their concern over the bill.

The letter was signed by 54 state and territorial attorneys general, and asked federal lawmakers to vote down the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, otherwise known as House Resolution 3035.

The bill, introduced in the House in September, would amend the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, or TCPA.

NAAG argued the bill would preempt state laws regulating junk faxes, unsolicited text messages, Do Not Call registries and automated calls.

"Our offices protect consumers by enforcing the TCPA and state laws concerning telephone solicitations, automated calls, junk faxes and text messages," the attorneys general wrote in their letter.

"Over at least the last 22 years, Congress and the states have enacted strong laws to protect consumers from unwanted and intrusive robocalls. Currently, federal law bans robocalls to cell phones unless the consumer gives prior express consent. HR 3035 would change the law and undermine federal and state efforts to shield consumers from a flood of solicitation, marketing, debt collection and other unwanted calls and texts to their cell phones."

The attorneys general were concerned the bill would shift the cost of unwanted calls, like debt collection and telemarketing calls, to consumers -- in particular, those low-income consumers who cannot afford to pay.

They also worried the bill would cause an increase in robocalls to cell phones from businesses and charities.

"HR 3035 goes far beyond the stated goal of giving debt collectors a new avenue to contact debtors and unnecessarily allows businesses to robocall or text consumers without the consumers' prior express consent," the attorneys general wrote.

They even went as far as argue that allowing robocalls to cell phones endangers public safety because of the "inevitable increase in calls to wireless phones."

"Few can resist answering the 'shrill and imperious ring' of the wireless telephone while driving," NAAG wrote. "More calls will likely mean more distracted drivers and, inevitably, more accidents."

Instead of the current bill, the attorneys general suggested Congress make "two small but significant changes" to the TCPA to better protect consumers: clarify that prior express consent to robocalls must be obtained in writing; and eliminate any suggestion from the TCPA that state statutes regulating interstate telephone and fax harassment are preempted.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who helped lead the effort against the legislation, said Wednesday he was relieved to hear of Terry's request.

Zoeller was one of many who testified at a November hearing before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in opposition to the bill.

"Consumers' voices across the nation and the concerns recently expressed by attorneys general were heard in Congress," he said in a statement.

More importantly, consumers' telephone privacy remains safer as a result, the attorney general said.

However, Zoeller added the bill has only highlighted the need to strengthen the TCPA due to changes in technology.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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