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Lawmakers weigh curbs on robocalls, paper ads

The committee chairman asked everyone in attendance to turn their cellphones off or to silent mode before the hearing began to prevent any disruptive calls while lawmakers were listening to testimony about annoying robocalls and unsolicited advertisements in the mail.

The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure on Monday took testimony on a handful of bills related to consumer solicitations, including legislation filed by North Adams Representative John Barrett to address robocalls and Internet-based phone solicitations.

Barrett’s bill would require that “the telephone number listed in the caller identification service or device shall be a valid telephone number attributable and traceable back to the calling party” and would also prohibit anyone from placing a call or text message “which results in the display of misleading, false or inaccurate caller identification,” or making a Massachusetts area code appear on the recipient’s caller ID unless the caller has a physical presence in the state.

The bill would also require telephone service providers doing business in Massachusetts to “implement effective caller authentication technology for all networks to ensure the legitimacy of caller identification numbers provided by their systems to consumers.” The bill has been cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 53 legislators.


Gerry Keegan of CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry, asked the committee to retain Barrett’s bill for study, in part because the service providers that do business in Massachusetts have already agreed to implement some aspects of Barrett’s bill.

In August, several major telecommunications companies — AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon, and Windstream — agreed with the attorneys general from all 50 states to implement certain “anti-robocall principles,” including things like call-blocking technology, monitoring networks for robocall traffic, and cooperating with investigations that trace illegal robocalls.

“Robocalls are invasive, annoying, and harmful to the American people,” Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “We’re pleased our multistate group brought telephone companies to the table to implement a new set of principles and technologies that will block many of these robocalls from reaching consumers.


There were an estimated 48 billion robocalls placed to consumers last year, an increase of 18 billion or 60 percent, according to the robocall-blocking service YouMail. Nearly 500 million robocalls were made to Massachusetts residents alone last year.

Through nine months, 2019 is poised to top last year’s total. Already, there have been 462.1 million robocalls placed to Massachusetts phone numbers so far this year, an average of 56 calls per person, YouMail said.

In September, Massachusetts residents were hit with 49.8 million robocalls, an average of 19.2 robocalls every second in the Bay State. The average Massachusetts resident received six robocalls last month, the company said.

Just more than 60 percent of all robocalls placed to Massachusetts during September were scam calls and another 8.6 percent were telemarketing calls, YouMail said. Alerts and other reminders accounted for 18.35 percent of the robocalls, and payment reminders made up the remaining roughly 13 percent of the calls.

Representative Mindy Domb of Amherst said she hears about the annoyance of robocalls all the time from her constituents.

“Everyone is communicating to me that they are experiencing an increase in this problem,” she said at Monday afternoon’s hearing.

The numbers bear that out. In 2017, the first full year that YouMail tracked the number of robocalls placed into each state, the service counted 290 million robocalls in Massachusetts. The 462.1 million robocalls so far in 2019 already represents a 60 percent increase over 2017’s complete-year numbers.