The House subcommittee on communications and technology discussed updating a bill prohibiting mobile telemarketing, to allow businesses to make robo-calls to mobile phones in certain cases.
In his opening statement at the hearing Friday morning, subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said that the bill needed to evolve with current technology. Under the current law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, businesses are not allowed to use automatic dialing equipment and prerecorded messages for calls to wireless phones. Walden argued in his statement that the rapid spread of wireless use and falling cellular telephone bills since the original law’s passage twenty years ago have changed the wireless landscape so much that the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is now too prohibitive.
Walden said the proposed bill — The Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011 — would update the current legislation to define whether the law prohibits consumers from receiving important automated calls, offering the example of low-balance or fraud alerts from financial institutions. Still, it’s not clear if the bill would be able to distinguish between helpful alerts and other telemarketing calls.
Lawmakers in the hearing were particularly concerned with what constituted “prior express consent” to receive the calls. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who was influential in passing the TCPA, asked if businesses would be able to reach consumers who had, at some point, given their mobile numbers to companies such as pizza-delivery services.
Consumer groups have said they opposed the measure. In a blog post at Consumer Reports, Maggie Schrader wrote that the proposed bill would “open the door to so-called robo-callers by letting businesses contact your cell phone” under the guise of “informational purposes.” Consumers Union, which is the advocacy arm of the group, said in a letter to the subpanel that the bill is far too broad.