Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee hearing on “Lawsuit Abuse and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act“.
Chairman Goodlatte: The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was enacted in 1991 to stem the tide of unsolicited calls and fax advertisements that consumers were receiving on a daily basis. While well intentioned, this law unfortunately reflects the dangers of legislation with broad intent, but narrow application to specific technologies.
One legal scholar has pointed out that a major concern raised during Congress’s consideration of this legislation was that fax recipients were bearing the cost of ink and paper for the fax advertisement they received. Indeed, in the early 1990s, “three-fourths of facsimile machines in the United States printed faxes on rolls of costly thermal transfer paper.” A fax machine that printed on regular “copier” paper existed, but cost over $2,000. Ten years later, the average price of a fax machine that used copier paper dropped to around $100. Today, fax machines are much less frequently used and many have been replaced with servers that allow recipients to view faxes on computers without printing them at all.
Just as technology has changed since the early 1990’s, so has litigation surrounding the TCPA. According to the FTC, an increasing number of TCPA violations involve Internet-based calls generated from outside of the United States. The FTC has also reported that approximately 59% of phone spam cannot be traced or blocked because the phone calls are routed through “a web of automatic dialers, caller ID spoofing and voice-over Internet protocols.” In contrast, a report cited in Ms. Wahlquist’s written testimony states that “between 2010 and 2016, there was a 1,372% increase in case filings.” If advances in technology have made it more difficult to find intentional violators of the TCPA, who then is being sued?
The answer could be U.S. businesses that are not actually violating the law. In many cases, TCPA litigation is arising from a lack of clarity in the law’s application, which is being exploited by attorneys seeking big payouts. Unfortunately, the TCPA neither anticipates the effects of new technology nor these emerging legal trends.
I hope that today’s hearing sheds some light on the lawsuit abuse of the TCPA and what Congress can do to modernize and improve it. We must protect consumers from being forced to foot the bill for unsolicited advertisements and we must also ensure that the law is not abused by a cottage industry of overly aggressive trial lawyers seeking to line their own pockets. I want to thank all the witnesses for testifying today, and I look forward to their testimony.