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ADJOURNED 'til Thursday at 11 a.m. (informal)


By Colin A. Young

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 23, 2019.....U.S. Sen. Edward Markey thinks he has a plan to bring the people of a politically divided nation together in opposition to a common enemy: robocalls.

"There is one thing that unites everyone in the United States. They hate these robocalls that come into their homes every single day," Markey said at a press conference in Boston on Tuesday. "There isn't one person in our country that does not feel abused by this plague of calls which happens every day of the week. And there is, right now, not sufficient protections that are built into our law."

There were an estimated 48 billion robocalls placed to consumers last year, an increase of 18 billion or 60 percent, Markey said. Nearly 500 million robocalls were made to Massachusetts residents alone.

Last month alone, Massachusetts residents were hit with 55 million robocalls, an average of 20.5 robocalls every second in the Bay State, according to robocall-blocking service YouMail. The average Massachusetts resident received 6.7 robocalls last month, the company said.

The most frequent robocall last month came from 508-441-3367, which YouMail said shows up as "Payment Reminder" on caller ID. While some robocalls may serve legitimate purposes, like reminding patients of scheduled appointments or alerting parents to a school cancelation, YouMail said more than half of the calls are actually scams.

"This is really problematic," YouMail CEO Alex Quilici said at Markey's press conference. "Not only are these robocalls a nuisance, but there is an economic impact to the people who fall for these scams."

He said the rising share of scam calls has thrown the "phone network into a death spiral. No one trusts the phone anymore and they don't answer."

Markey is seeking to address the problem with a bill he filed in January with Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act would give the Federal Communications Commission broader authority to pursue robocallers and enforce telemarketing restrictions, including the ability to fine those who intentionally flout the law up to $10,000 per call.

Markey's office said the bill would require service providers to adopt call authentication technologies to verify that calls are real before they are transmitted and would give consumers a way to block unwanted calls or text messages.

The bill was unanimously passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee earlier in April, Markey's office said. The office said 54 state and territory attorneys general sent a letter of support for the TRACED Act, and that the bill has the support of all Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission commissioners.

Quilici said Markey's bill will not necessarily stop all robocalls, but that the scammers will likely "move to real numbers, which will be better for everyone" because real numbers can be identified as coming from a scammer and blocked.


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