EDITORIALS

Too Many Robo-calls

Posted Jan. 23, 2012, at 4:02 p.m.

If you hate robo-calls on your telephone from advertisers, lenders and debt collectors, take heart. Consumer groups, the AARP, Consumers Union and Maine’s Attorney General William J. Schneider have successfully campaigned to keep the pesky things off cellphones.

They joined in opposition to a bill in Congress that would have allowed those automated calls on mobile phones. Two congressmen, Reps. Lee Terry, R-Neb. and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., had introduced the bill with the mild-sounding title, “Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011” at the request of 16 banking, business and educational institutions, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They argued that the bill would level the playing field, since robo-calls are permitted on landline phones.

The backers of the bill expected it to sail right through. After all, who could be against “information”? But to their surprise, a torrent of opposition erupted. The AARP lobbied legislators. The powerful National Association of Attorneys General said the bill would “undermine federal and state efforts to shield consumers from a flood of solicitation, marketing, debt collection and other unwanted calls and texts to their cellphones” in a letter signed by 54 attorneys general including Maine’s Mr. Schneider.

Terry and Towns quickly saw that “there is no hope for this legislation” and sent a letter to that effect to the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

No wonder that consumers fought back against these calls. The phone rings and you get a recorded voice calling probably at random, and of course there is no way to talk back, even to tell the speaker to get lost or that you have no interest. To make matters worse, you may have to pay a fee for the incoming call.

Landline robo-calls are still permitted, but there is some recourse. The National Do Not Call Registry gives you a choice about whether or not to receive telemarketing calls at home. However, political campaign calls are exempt from restriction. If a robo-caller gets through, the victim can sue for up to $1,500 per violation. And the Supreme Couurt says you can now sue in federal as well as state courts.

If you want to get even with candidates who keep bothering you, try reverserobocall.com for a service that lets you place your own robo-calls and get right back at them.

Modern commuications have their twists and turns. Some may torment you, but some of them are on your side.

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