Senate Commerce Committee Examines TCPA at 25-Year Mark

May 19, 2016 · by mlivolsi · Spark Notes

May 19, 2016

Prepared by:  Wes Huffman (

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation convened a hearing May 18 to examine the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a law designed to protect consumers from unwanted calls which was written some 25 years ago.  A full summary is included as a special attachment with this COHEAO Spark.

It is clear Senators, Representatives, and other policymakers often hear from their constituents regarding unwanted calls. Unfortunately, for those seeking to update the law to provide more flexibility for established business relationships, the term “robocall” has been defined as any call using an automated telephone dialing system (ATDS).  Several Senators struggled to understand the differences between a device designed to more efficiently contact existing customers and those designed to blast marketing calls across large swaths of a given area code to play a recording and/or connect with the first person to answer.

Despite the continual conflation of telemarketing calls with those made to existing customers (including students), several Senators at the hearing seemed aware of the recent spikes in lawsuits relating to TCPA and acknowledged the growth of the cottage industry of plaintiffs’ attorneys filing complaints on calls.  There also seemed to be agreement among the witnesses on a need for a national registry of reassigned numbers to prevent calls where consent was previously given, but the mobile number has subsequently been reassigned. The testimony from consumer groups did note such databases did exist in the private market, with some claiming verification rates of 99 percent, but also said they would support a national registry of these numbers.

The pending rules from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement the TCPA exception relating to the collection of federal debts was also specifically mentioned by numerous witnesses and Senators throughout the hearing.  In addition to the traditional debate between consumer groups and privacy hawks who often claim that calls to try to help a borrower get out of delinquency or default constitute harassment and industry groups who want to reach their customer on their mobile phones in the most efficient way possible, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller indicated the law could threaten the constitutionality of his state’s prohibition of robocalls of any type.

In an interview with Politico following the hearing, Chairman John Thune (R-SD) suggested he was open to considering in his committee Sen. Edward Markey’s (D-MA) HANG-UP Act, which would repeal the TCPA exemption for the collection of federal debts.  Thune also said he was inclined to push for a national registry of reassigned numbers to protect against TCPA litigation abuse, but acknowledged that proposal would receive significant pushback, particularly from wireless carriers.

Additional information on the hearing, including an archived webcast, witness statements, and opening statements from the Chairman and Ranking Member, is available online:

5.19.16 Senate Commerce TCPA–Attachment

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