Friday, June 30, 2017
Billy Long: Telephone Consumer Protection Act must be modernized
In 1991 Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The TCPA sought to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls and faxes. However, the law does not stop unwanted robocalls and faxes. Instead, it harms consumers and hinders U.S. companies from providing important information their customers need and want via calls and texts.
When the TCPA was passed in the early 90s, only 7.5 million people in the U.S. had a wireless telephone. Compare that to 2015 when 377 million people in the U.S. had wireless telephones. As technology continues to change, so does the way people communicate. That’s why modernizing the TCPA is critical.
Congress included three ways this law can be enforced to protect individuals against robocalls and unwanted faxes. First, a state attorney general can bring a civil lawsuit for damages. Second, the Federal Communications Commission, the agency in charge of interpreting and enforcing the law, can fine individuals and companies with monetary penalties. Finally, individuals have the right to bring a lawsuit. Under the TCPA Individuals can either seek $500 per violation or actual financial loss, depending on which is greater.
Each year 37 million telephone numbers are recycled. The Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform released a report saying that cell phone numbers can be reassigned without notifying anyone, including the companies that were at one point given consent to contact that number. This means that a U.S. company that continues to call a reassigned number without knowing can be sued.
Last September the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on the importance of modernizing the TCPA. I heard from one witness that she no longer sends out health-related reminder calls to her patients regarding vital information because of the risk of litigation due to telephone numbers being reassigned.
The Energy and Commerce Committee is not the only committee working towards modernizing the TCPA, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice recently held a hearing on lawsuit abuse of the TCPA. Litigation of the TCPA has significantly increased over the years. Between 2010 and 2016 there was a 1,372 percent increase in case filings, which highlights the importance of reexamining the intentions of the law.
Consumers and U.S. companies have taken the hit for far too long and it’s my job as Congressman to ensure that consumers and businesses are treated fairly. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I will continue working with my colleagues to make this a reality.