TR Daily House Commerce Committee Approves Robocalling, Cybersecurity Bills
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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

House Commerce Committee Approves Robocalling, Cybersecurity Bills

The House Energy and Commerce Committee today approved without opposition bipartisan measures aimed at deterring unwanted robocalls and boosting infrastructure cybersecurity.

The Stopping Bad Robocalls Act (HR 3375) and four cybersecurity measures were part of a mammoth 25-bill markup agenda that took the committee nearly six hours to slog through, despite little controversy or dispute. Product safety, energy, and health measures rounded out the agenda.

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), committee ranking member Greg Walden (R., Ore.), communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.) and subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R., Ohio) introduced the robocall bill last month (TR Daily, June 20). The communications subcommittee marked it up a week after its introduction (TR Daily, June 25).

Today the committee adopted by voice vote a manager’s amendment proposed by Chairman Pallone that he said included “technical tweaks,” as well as a new provision addressing legitimate calls that are blocked or deprioritized because they originate from providers using legacy technologies that cannot accommodate call authentication. The new provision would “create transparency around blocked calls and create a redress option,” he said.

It also adopted on voice vote two additional amendments to the manager’s amendment: one offered by Reps. Michael Burgess (R., Texas) and Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) to establish a “hospital protection group” at the FCC to recommend best practices to address robocalls to hospitals that spoof internal numbers as well as calls to consumers spoofing hospital phone numbers; and one offered by Reps. Bill Flores (R., Texas) and Jerry McNerney (D., Calif.) to increase the penalty for robocalling violations from $5,000 per incident to $10,000 per incident.

Regarding the latter amendment, Rep. John Sarbanes (D., Md.) said, “This is a critical amendment, because a lot of these scam artists see [the current] penalty as just the cost of doing business, … so if you increase penalty they may actually change [their behavior].”

Democrats requested a voice vote on final approval of the bill. There was some confusion about the number of affirmative votes, but the committee said in a corrected press release later in the day that the vote was 48 to 0.

As approved by the subcommittee, before the “tweaks” and additions of the Pallone manager’s amendment, the bill would require voice service providers to implement a call authentication solution, with exemptions for small and rural providers and those still using legacy TDM (time-division multiplex) technology. It would bar providers from charging consumers or small businesses for call authentication services.

It would direct the FCC to adopt rules requiring that any opt-out (default) robocall-blocking services are transparent, have effective redress options for consumers and small businesses, and are provided with no additional line-item charge to consumers. It would direct the FCC to adopt rules ensuring consumer protection and privacy with respect to automatic telephone dialing systems and to report on establishment of the reassigned number database, implementation of a call authentication solution, industry traceback efforts, and robocall complaints.

It would also authorize the FCC to impose forfeitures for robocall violations without first issuing a citation and extend the statute of limitations for enforcement to four years.

It also contains provisions aimed at referring robocall violations to the Justice Department, combatting one-ring scams, and conducting interagency efforts to improve intergovernmental cooperation on combatting robocalls.

In a statement released after the committee vote, Chairman Pallone said, “This legislation will ensure every call Americans get is verified by Caller ID and that consumers can block calls they don’t want. I look forward to having the full House vote on our bill soon.”

In a joint statement, ranking members Walden and Latta said, “The truth is, these calls go well beyond annoying; illegal robocalls are a destructive scourge — scamming consumers and disrupting our health care system. The bill requires carriers to adopt a call-authentication tool and blocking service, both free of charge, so we can trust our caller ID again. Further, it gives some added teeth for the FCC, who will now get up to four years to catch illegal callers as well as authority to fine first time offenders. By ensuring calls are verified, giving the FCC new tools to crack down on bad actors, and empower consumers to take action against illegal robocallers. It’s about time.”

During his opening statement, communications subcommittee Chairman Doyle said that “Americans received nearly 48 billion last year alone, which is a 60% increase from year before,” and that robocalls are expecting to increase to 60 billion this year.

The Voice on the Net (VON) Coalition issued a statement supporting the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act. Chairman Pallone submitted into the record letters of support for the bill from AARP and Consumer Reports, among others.

The committee also approved on voice vote with no amendments four cybersecurity bills: the Enhancing Grid Security through Public-Private Partnerships Act (HR 359); the Cyber Sense Act (HR 360); the Energy Emergency Leadership Act (HR 362); and the Pipeline and LNG Facility Cybersecurity Preparedness Act (HR 370).

The energy subcommittee approved all four bills in May (TR Daily, May 16).

HR 359 would direct the Department of Energy to encourage public-private partnerships to improve the cybersecurity of electric utilities. It would seek to improve sharing of best practices and data collection and provide cybersecurity training and technical assistance to electric utilities.

HR 360 would create a voluntary DoE “Cyber Sense” program that would identify and promote cyber secure products for use in the bulk-power system. It would establish a testing process for products and procedures for reporting cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

HR 362 would create within the Department of Energy an assistant secretary position subject to Senate confirmation, with responsibility for infrastructure, cybersecurity, emerging threats, supply, and emergency planning, coordination, response, and restoration; and for providing technical assistance, support, and response capabilities with respect to energy security threats, risks, and incidents at the request of a state, local, or tribal government or an energy sector entity.

HR 370 would require DoE to implement a program to coordinate federal agencies, states, and the energy sector to ensure the security, resiliency, and survivability of natural gas pipelines, hazardous liquid pipelines, and liquefied natural gas facilities. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

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