WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The New Center – an organization focused on creating the space for a political center in America – today released a new policy paper entitled "Robocalls: Big Telecom's Big Problem." Robocalling, the act of marketers or scammers sending automated voice messages to thousands of phones at once, has surged to epidemic levels. 48 billion calls robocalls were placed in the U.S. last year, an increase of 60%.
"Many of these unwanted intrusions – with callers hawking everything from low interest loans and credit card debt forgiveness to vacations – are outrageous, and increasingly fraudulent," said New Center co-chair Bill Galston. "These calls are a form of digital pollution; costing us time and money, violating our privacy, and degrading trust in the communications and technology networks upon which we increasingly depend. It is time for a new approach to dealing with this problem and that is precisely what The New Center is offering."
An astounding half of all calls in the U.S. are expected to be robocall spam in 2019. The New Center has investigated the scale and causes of America's robocall epidemic and concluded that the current system for regulating robocalls just doesn't work.
It's a system that relies on understaffed agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to police an impossible number of illegal calls, creating an endless game of whack-a-mole that American consumers will lose every time.
"It is time to fundamentally change the game. Telecom companies can and should step up to play a much greater role in solving the robocall problem, either voluntarily or with fines to drive their behavior," said Galston. "Telecom companies already have the technology to do it. Now, they just need the will."
In November of last year, The New Center released a comprehensive policy paper on the influence of large tech companies on public discourse and American privacy. The robocall paper is an extension of this work, exploring yet another way in which unregulated and increasingly sophisticated technologies threaten the privacy and well-being of Americans.
"Robocalls: Big Telecom's Big Problem" is available for download from newcenter.org. Newcenter.org is the home of all original content from The New Center, as well as curated stories highlighting bipartisan political efforts, original analysis of where the left and right overstep their bounds, and relevant and exclusive polling.
Here is a brief summary of the policy solutions offered in the Robocall paper.
A Dime for Every Robocall
Telecom companies that refuse to police robocalls should pay a price. Congress and the FTC should work together to evaluate telecom carriers' robocall-blocking performance, and they should punish those that flounder. Fortunately, this evaluation infrastructure already exists. The FTC website's telemarketing complaint form asks several questions to assess whether reported calls are illegal, such as the time of the call, the amount of money requested, and the caller's company information. To punish carriers, the FTC should simply request the name of the carrier on the device that was illegally called. It can then fine carriers – a dime per call – for each illegal call reported on their networks. Considering there were 48 billion illegal robocalls in 2018, carriers could face as much as $4.8 billion in fines if they fail to step up to the plate. Although carriers should be incentivized through fines, the responsibility is not theirs alone. Government agencies must be tougher in cracking down on those responsible for illegal robocalls.
Tougher Enforcement. Tougher Penalties. And Criminal Prosecutions
American telecoms – with a push from Congress and the FTC – need to take the lead in policing robocalls. But government enforcement of robocallers that slip through the cracks can and should be a lot tougher. Suggested changes include:
- The FCC and FTC should increase fines. In 2018, the agency fined illegal robocaller Adrian Abramovich $120 million for 97 million robocalls – a rate of about one dollar per call. While it's unknown exactly how much money Abramovich swindled from the victims of his vacation scams, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai did report that the ruse disrupted the operations of an emergency medical paging provider. By slowing down the network, Pai stated, Abramovich could have delayed vital emergency medical care.
- The FTC should collect fines more swiftly. From 2013 to 2015, the FCC announced approximately $235 million in fines to communications firms — but as of November 2015, had collected $0. As of 2018, in fact, the FTC has only collected $121 million in fines — a fraction of the total fines levied. Slow and limited fine collection lets offenders off the hook and encourages others to try their hand at the illegal telemarketing trade.
- The FTC should consider implementing criminal penalties on top of civil ones, as Connecticut did in 2018. Illegal robocalling businesses might think twice about their actions should they face time behind bars in addition to fines.
About The New Center
American politics is broken, with the far left and far right making it increasingly impossible to govern. This will not change until a viable center emerges that can create an assertive agenda that appeals to the vast majority of the American people.
This is the mission of The New Center, which aims to establish the intellectual basis for a viable political center in today's America.
We create and promote ideas, news coverage, and commentary that helps people see common sense solutions to the problems we face.
SOURCE The New Center