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Public Statements

Hearing of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

Statement

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today's hearing is an opportunity for our Subcommittee to explore an age-
old problem of legislation: How do we ensure that the laws on the books make
sense given new technologies and the evolving marketplace? I welcome that
opportunity, and I thank Vice Chairman Terry and Mr. Towns for bringing before
us their bipartisan bill, the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.
The bill would update the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which aimed
to protect telephone customers from intrusive telephone marketing while balancing
those protections against the needs of businesses and non-profits to communicate
and inform consumers. It did so, among other ways, by restricting the ability of
telemarketers to make telephone solicitations and by prohibiting all use of
automatic dialing equipment and prerecorded voice messages for calls to wireless
phones.
But it's been twenty years since Congress passed the TCPA, and the world
of telecommunications has changed. Back then, the only person with a cell phone
was Gordon Gecko. Today, many American households have given up the landline
and rely exclusively on wireless service. Back then, wireless customers paid higher
per-minute rates to receive calls; now, most consumers have buckets of minutes so
that receiving an additional call costs them nothing. Given these changes to the
market, now seems like a good time to revisit some of the rules the TCPA put in
place.
The thrust of the TCPA was to help protect consumers from unwanted
telemarketing calls. The question now, however, is whether the TCPA is
inadvertently preventing consumers from the convenience of getting other
information they do want while they're on the go with their mobile phones. And if
so, how can we address that? Does the TCPA prevent consumers from receiving
informational calls from their banks like fraud or low-balance alerts? Do the
strictures of the TCPA and the FCC's implementation of it make it too difficult for
businesses to engage their customers and provide them valuable services? What is
the proper role for states in protecting the privacy of telephone subscribers?
Reasonable people can disagree on the answers to these questions. But I
think we can all agree that any legislation should not subject consumers to
unwanted telephone solicitations. Surely we can figure out a way to allow
consumers to receive useful informational calls without unleashing the
telemarketers; and I think that's exactly the needle that this legislation is aiming to
thread.
We have before us several experts that will help us explore these issues. I
hope we'll learn something about the consumer benefits of mobile informational
calls, something about the concerns of consumer advocates and our states'
attorneys general, and something about today's wireless marketplace. I think this
can be a very productive discussion about ways to improve our country's laws for
the benefit of all Americans; and I expect we'll have some vigorous debate on how
to do that.


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