Don’t you dare call us

November 30, 2011

Remember how we all did the happy dance when the U.S. government created the Do Not Call Registry back in 2003? How we popped the champagne corks because hefty civil penalties could be given to a telemarketer if they called your landline after you had opted-in on the registry? Sure, there are loopholes and enforcement problems but essentially the registry works, and it restored the natural order of things by liberating us from having to drop everything because some faceless, money-grubbing salesperson rang in our living rooms.

A mere eight years later landlines are a dying technology. Cool kids, lower-income people, and savvy middle-agers know there’s really no need for a “home phone.” We’ve never had to worry about mobile phone spam because there is a FCC rule against it. This restriction was premised largely on the fact that, unlike on a landline, receiving a wireless call can cost something to the recipient. Same is true for faxes, for the same reason: unsolicited faxes — i.e., spam — is a civil violation.

But, aside from the practical rationale, this dynamic reflects the fundamental truth that I have a phone to make calls and receive them from whom I choose. I’m not paying all this money to establish a marketing beachhead in my pocket.

Well, hang on to your smartphones: Telemarketers are trying to recreate in mobile what the DNC Registry and the demise of landlines rendered moot. If we don’t make a huge stink about this right now there is a chance, however slight, that robo telemarketing calls will make a come back, on steroids.

This abomination is being teed up as HR 3035, aka the “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.” It would amend the Communications Act of 1934 and give legal cover to the cretins of commerce who think they have the right to get your attention, anywhere you happen to be, by leveraging the reality that mobile phones are everywhere and the primary means of communication for hundreds of millions of people.

The proposed bill is very short, and blessedly easy to understand. But it would “permit informational calls to mobile telephone numbers, and for other purposes” (my emphasis added) by the use of an “automatic telephone dialing system.”

Thaaaaat’s right. Just when it became safe to sit down to dinner and not be bothered by someone trying to sell you insurance or a magazine subscription, 10 members of the House of Representatives, led by Nebraska Republican Lee Terry, want to let salespeople and, well, anybody with “other purposes” to put you on a list for solicitations and who knows what else.

The proposal seems unlikely to emerge from the House, much less pass the Senate, if only because Congress is dysfunctional. Then there is the matter of President Obama signing it into law, which would be astonishing. But the mere attempt to start this conversation, however quixotic, has sparked outrage from the privacy and personal space crowd, of which I count myself a very passionate member. Just to be safe, though, you can start calling or emailing Congressman Terry in D.C. or Omaha to tell him to shove that bill down his landline.

For a glimpse at how the righteous advocates of Truth, Justice and the American Way view this blatant exploitation of new technology for commercial speech check out this Gizmodo article, whose headline I can’t even repeat here.

But whatever the prospects for HR 3035, this is a defining moment in the relatively young history of the mobile internet. Smartphones have been adopted at a pace not seen since the introduction of television because they represent a genuine, empowering breakthrough for individuals. Even better than TV, they allow for people and pitchmen to co-mingle in ways that are relatively unintrusive, by serving up unsolicited ads and information at appropriate times and in appropriate locations and only when we specifically ask.

Smartphones are potentially a bigger boon to commerce than the web is. My iPhone tells me where food and drink and help is, no matter where I am. I am no stranger in any city, town or side street. I use my Amazon app to mindlessly order things that arrive magically two business days later while commuting to work. I use a Starbucks app to find locations, and then pay — I am sure I buy more coffee because of it. I use Google to find car services and … other things.

So, the Luddites in Congress behind this bill are ruining … everything. They think that a mobile phone is a phone, for heaven’s sake. They don’t realize that the phone is just an app on a pocket-sized geo-aware communications computer that MacGyver, James Bond, Inspector Gadget and H.G. Wells would have killed to possess.

They also don’t realize — because they don’t have to answer their own phones — that nuisance calls are a real nuisance.

That is why the lesson of the Do Not Call Registry looms large in this new fight. More than 200 million people have signed up with DNC as of early this year. Get your head around that staggering number: That is three-quarters of all the landlines in the United States. It is 70 million more than the number of people who voted in the 2008 presidential election. It is 90 million more than the viewership of the Super Bowl in February — the highest-rated TV show in America ever.

So it’s hard to know what Rep. Terry et al hope to accomplish, apart from being subjected to a world of mockery and abuse.

The good news is that you don’t need anyone’s permission to call Rep. Lee or the bill’s nine co-sponsors or the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to tell them (nicely) to … reconsider their position.

I say again, feel free to call or email Congressman Terry in D.C. or Omaha to tell him not so nicely to shove that bill where the sun don’t shine.

And do it with a recorded message, from your mobile phone. That would be a very nice touch.

Photo by BinaryApe/Flickr. Used, with gratitude, under a Creative Commons license.


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We agree that this is an outrage. So much so that we’ve created a tool where you can, with one click, robocall all the supporters of this bill.

Here is the link hr-3035-coalition


Shaun Dakin

Posted by ShaunDakin | Report as abusive

I quit using my land line over 7 years ago and I get unwanted calls weekly to my cell. Though it is certainly an aggravation I just hang up rather than ask how the _ _ _ _ they got my number.

Posted by Spinhound | Report as abusive

I looked in the very short bill for the following quote and could not find it:

The proposed bill is very short, and blessedly easy to understand. But it would “permit informational calls to mobile telephone numbers, and for other purposes” (my emphasis added) by the use of an “automatic telephone dialing system.”

could you please direct me to it? What I see is following which is very different than what you wrote. Calls cannot be made using an automated dialing system:

iv) to any telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service, specialized mobile radio service, or other radio common carrier service, or any service for which the called party is charged for the call, unless the call is made for a commercial purpose that does not constitute a telephone solicitation;’

You don’t seem to be accurately representing the bill.

Posted by freyer | Report as abusive

@freyer: Lines 5 and 9 both read: “To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to permit informational calls to mobile telephone numbers, and for other purposes.” And remember that this AMENDS the original bill … so you need to do some cross-referencing to fully appreciate the significance of the proposed changes.

Posted by Stupidscript | Report as abusive

While I certainly appreciate your passion, many of your statements are misleading, and quite frankly, inaccurate. HR 3035, the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, will modernize the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to allow for the delivery of time-sensitive consumer information to mobile devices, while continuing to protect wireless consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. Under the provision, telemarketers are still required to have express written consent to contact a consumer on their mobile device.

The legislation includes meaningful changes such as exempting informational calls from the restriction on auto-dialer and pre-recorded voice calls to wireless numbers. These calls are valued by consumers because they proactively communicate timely and relevant communications that help consumers make information decisions regarding:
• suspicious credit card activity
• flight cancellations
• appointment reminders
• service outages and restorations
• past due payments

Posted by JohnTallarico | Report as abusive


This article is a legitimate “heads up” to consumers that self-serving commercial interests are trying an “end run” around the expressed wished of “we, the people” via our elected “representatives”. It is a public service.

The tone of your words smack of some commercial interest motivating your disengenuious attempt to change the meaning of commonly used words and thoughts thus expressed.

Any bank with which I have an ongoing and genuine financial relationship can already call me on my cell phone (since that is my only phone) about “suspicious credit card activity”. Any airline with whom a flight is booked can call about “flight cancellations” (but seldom do).

My doctors’ offices routinely call to remind me of appointments (although I wish they would quit…I keep them on a “to do” list updated daily. No one need call to tell me my lights are out or my water is off. I KNOW! meaningful information as to specific service rerstoration is impossible to get when I call them.

On those rare occasions that a payment is not received by someone I deal with, they already contact me; either by mail or email. Never by telephone, unless it is someone upset about a genuine dispute that must be resolved either by Medicare or my credit card company. I don’t want these companies that prey on consumers by sending junk out and then billing you for it to be able to add telephone harassment to their current options of financial intimidation.

You’re either not the brightest light in the harbor, or you need to disclose why and on whose behalf you are posting on this subject here.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

There are apps on most phones which adequately cover any ‘time sensitive ‘ communication in a much better environment than an outdated robo-call. Why is the congressman trying to reinvent the wheel by taking a giant step backwards?

Posted by auger | Report as abusive

We gripe about this and yet no one raises a stink over the program called CarrierIQ which is equipped on hundreds of thousands of smartphones, records ever keystroke you make (personal texts, passwords, data you sent to a mobile website that you thought was private because the website promised not to cache your cookies, credit card numbers, web searches, what apps you use and when) and then sends it indiscriminantly to manufacturers and programmers so that they can determine how people use their phones. And it can’t be disabled, so you can’t opt-out. Telemarketing protests equals fighting the wrong battle, in my opinion. We should be far more concerned with the complete disregard of personal privacy by cellphone manufacturers; instead, the focus is on telemarketers, those whom with caller ID we can completely ignore. My question is…. WHY?

Posted by LookshyLily | Report as abusive

Posted by JohnTallarico : give the Gov’t any chance to invade our privacy and business, banks, marketing etc. will take it that extra mile.
Mr. Abell makes the argument for most of us. We pay for this expensive service for our means of communication for whom we choose.
The Gov’t is quite unwilling to force a mandatory Opt in legislation for any electronic form of communication and until it does this measure needs to be defeated as quickly as possible.

Posted by rcd1160 | Report as abusive

@John: As I understand it, your definition of “time-sensitive consumer information” may include a credit card offer that “ends today!” I think proponents of this bill really need to consider the consumer backlash against those brands choosing this outlet. As an example imagine a telemarketing call to a Chicago US CST number reaching the phone owner traveling in Europe or Asia. That’s a high value customer who is going to write off your brand instantly once they are fully awake. Your bulleted list can be just as effectively communicated via email or managed via text initiated by the phone owner. Let the dialing-pumps remain a thing of the past and keep my line clear of unwanted calls.

NO on HR 3035!

Posted by TreeMcGee | Report as abusive


“still required to have express written consent”
The text here certainly seems to *allow* oral consent.

“modernize the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)”
The text here claims to update the Communications Act of 1934, which is precisely what the article above indicated.

“These calls are valued by consumers”
Given that I already receive relevant communications on my cellphone from reputable companies with my consent, there does not seem to be much need for further permission. Additionally, I also receive the occasional telemarketing call from companies with no business relationship. This happens in spite of the fact that my cellphone number is listed on the US Federal do not call list. Of course, these calls occur much less often than before the implementation of the do not call list.

Narrowing the definition of “automatic telephone dialing system” certainly appears to be expanding opportunities for telemarketers.

The most charitable interpretation of this bill would be that it helps the telemarketers through unintended consequences.

Posted by alignedinterest | Report as abusive

here’s an idea: come up with a script for a telemarketer call, and call the representative’s office repeatedly selling anything you can think up. If they try to get you to stop calling, tell them you thought their bill allowed it.

Posted by sfgfan10 | Report as abusive

I attempted to email Representative Lee but his website would not allow me to email him because my zip code is not in his area of representation.

Posted by Bagwa | Report as abusive