Lawmakers Try Again To Close Loophole Allowing Government To Make Debt-Collection Robocalls

Once again, federal lawmakers are trying to close a recently opened loophole that allows the federal government — and, by extension, contractors working for the government — to blast out automated, unwanted, possibly incorrect, debt-collection robocalls.

This all came about in late 2015, when a last-minute addition to a must-pass budget bill amended existing telecommunications law to allow robocalls “made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.”

Legislators could do nothing to stop that bill without risking a shutdown of the federal government, but they did propose legislation that seeking to undo the change. Alas, like many bills, this one never made it out of committee, despite having 19 co-sponsors.

That has not dissuaded Sen. Ed Markey (MA) from trying again with the HANGUP Act of 2017 [PDF]. Like the previous version, it would close the debt-collection loophole opened by the 2015 budget bill.

It also takes the additional step of walking back the FCC’s July 2016 “Broadnet” decision, in which the Commission effectively ruled that anyone in the federal government, including contractors, could deploy robocalls, so long as the automated calls explicitly involve government business.

Sen. Markey argues that the intention of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act — which limits the use of robocalls — was clear: “consumers should not be subject to unwanted robocalls and robotexts on their phones. But recent carveouts by Congress and the FCC allow government contractors to robocall and robotext consumers without their affirmative express consent…No one wants to be interrupted during family mealtime or when helping children with homework.”

The HANGUP ACT has bipartisan support in the form of Sen. Mike Lee (UT), who also cosponsored the 2015 version of the bill.