Monday, June 27, 2016

More Government Protection

Today is a day for celebration!  It’s the thirteenth anniversary of the Do Not Call list.  When you put your personal phone number on the list, it becomes illegal for businesses to call you with unsolicited offers or requests, except for political organizations, not-for-profit organizations, bill collectors and organizations conducting surveys.

How effective has it been?  Here is some information from Wikipedia:  “According to the 2009 Economic Report of the President, prepared by the Council of Economic Advisors, the program has proved quite popular: as of 2007, according to one survey, 72 percent of Americans had registered on the list, and 77 percent of those say that it made a large difference in the number of telemarketing calls that they receive (another 14 percent report a small reduction in calls).”  But is popular the same as effective?  And is fewer calls the same as Do-Not-Call?  “Another survey, conducted less than a year after the Do Not Call list was implemented, found that people who registered for the list saw a reduction in telemarketing calls from an average of 30 calls per month to an average of 6 per month.”

Obviously some companies opted to ignore the list.  I remember early on telling telemarketers that we were on the Do Not Call list and reporting the call on the website.  The information went into cyberspace with no feedback.  Since then technology has improved to give us computers assisting humans to speed up the calling process and robocalls, using a computerized auto dialer to deliver a pre-recorded message.

The main problem with the Do Not Call list is that the process has no teeth.  The enforcement was very weak.  NBC tells us that in the first four months of this year, “the Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.6 million complaints about unwanted calls. Sixty-four percent, or 1.1 million complaints, were for robocalls.”  Imagine the numbers when the people who didn’t bother to complain are accounted for!

Congress recognizes this and now has proposed new legislation requiring landline and mobile carriers to offer free robocall-blocking technology to their customers.  The press release stated, “Robocalls are one of the things that annoy Americans the most and the ROBOCOP Act will finally help put a rest to these dreaded calls that are interrupting family dinners—or worse—scamming people out of their hard-earned money.”  Of course companies who use the technology want the rules loosened rather than tightened.

First, anyone who thinks robocalls are one of our biggest annoyances must lead an otherwise very calm, tranquil and sheltered life.  It’s not such a big deal that we need Congress spending time debating it instead of a thousand bigger issues.

Whether robocalls are among the top annoyances or just a minor pain in the neck, we could always take responsibility and buy an inexpensive phone with caller ID (which most people have already).  If you don’t recognize the caller, don’t answer.  If they really want to talk to you, they will leave a message and you can decide whether to return the call.  (I have been using caller ID to screen calls for several years and haven’t gotten a single solicitation from any organization.  They can’t scam me or annoy me if I don’t answer.)  So once again, why do we need the government stepping in to solve a problem that is so easily taken care of?  They also want to do it in a way that adds costs to the providers, costs that will somehow be passed along to the consumer as they always are.  Nothing is free.

Whenever we don’t take responsibility, acting helpless, acting like victims, some advocate or politician is always happy to step in and solve the problem for us.  Often it doesn’t really get completely resolved; and all we have accomplished is to encourage the attitude of these "helpers" that in this high-tech world of robocalls, scammers or whatever we can’t really take care of ourselves.

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