Kevin Gray
KU Statehouse Wire Service
After an automated call urged Kansas Rep. Susie Swanson (R-Clay Center) not to vote for herself during the November 2016 election, Swanson decided automated calls in Kansas needed tighter regulations.
“I was warned by the caller, a lobby group, not to vote for me because I was dangerous,” Swanson said in support of House Bill 2273 before the Senate’s Utilities committee last week.
The bill, which passed 121-1 in the Kansas House in 2017, targets unsolicited calls by automated machines from sources such as credit card companies and political lobbyists. It would not include calls from a live operator.
The Utilities Committee introduced a revised bill, including additional restrictions on automated calls, or robocalls. These restrictions include a strict time of day constraint that would only permit robocalls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. It would also block robocalls to public service agencies such as hospitals and fire stations.
Swanson said the robocalls are “extremely frustrating.” According to her, a small business owner in Clay Center once received 18 robocalls in one day, and she receives several daily.
Additionally, Swanson said elderly people are susceptible to problems from answering robocalls. Her own mother fell and broke her ribs trying to answer a robocall, leading to a $1,600 medical bill.
“I believe in the case of the elderly, it can be dangerous,” she said.
AT&T General Manager of External Affairs Rob Reynolds said he understands consumers’ frustration with robocalls. However, he opposes the bill because he said the industry needs to fix the issue instead of relying on government.
“State-based legislation is solving today’s problems,” Reynolds said. “Fraudsters are moving at the speed of technology.”
AT&T started a task force in 2016 to stay ahead of robocallers, according to Reynolds. The phone company scans 1.5 billion calls for robocalls out of the 4 billion calls it handles every weekday. AT&T has blocked 2.8 billion calls since October 2016, or 12 million calls per weekday, from automated dialing services. This accounts for about one-tenth of the 29 billion total robocalls Americans received in 2017, a number Federal Communications Commissions Chairman Ajit Pai told CBS News.
However, Reynolds said a consumer education campaign is just as important as technological advancements. He said cell phone apps exist to help block unsolicited robocalls. Many of the apps are free. Every cell provider and the FCC provide further precautionary steps on their websites. For people with landlines, registering on national and state Do Not Call lists will help.
“While it’s 100 percent complaint in this room, only 10 percent of us have protected our own phone numbers,” Reynolds said. “The fact is only 10 percent of our customers have done anything to protect themselves.”
House Bill 2273 awaits further committee hearings.