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Springfield, MO

Opinion: Telephone Consumer Protection Act needs modernized

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Editor’s note: This column is one of U.S. Rep. Billy Long’s recent weekly reports from Washington, D.C.

In 1991, Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act 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, only 7.5 million people in the United States had wireless telephones. Compare that to 2015 when 377 million Americans had wireless phones. 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. Finally, individuals have the right to bring a lawsuit and can either seek $500 per violation or actual financial loss, depending on which is greater.  

Each year, 37 million telephone numbers are recycled. The U.S. Chamber 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 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.

Energy and Commerce is not the only committee working toward 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 re-examining 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 consumers and businesses are treated fairly. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, I will continue working with my colleagues to make this a reality. 
 
Congressman Billy Long represents the 7th District of Missouri. He can be reached at (202) 225-6536 in Washington, D.C., and at (417) 889-1800 in Springfield.

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