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Stopping Illegal Robocalls Where They Start

Legal but Unwanted Calls

All of my efforts with telephone providers and regulators are focused on ILLEGAL robocalls. But like most people, I’m also bothered by certain legal calls; the industry refers to these as UNWANTED calls.

This week, my phone rang at dinnertime (6:48 PM) – the Caller-ID showed +1-202-225-8104 / CPTL U S. I answered to hear the recorded voice of Anna Eshoo, the US Representative for my California district, inviting me to stay on the line to listen to her “town hall.” I was told I could stay on the line and I’d be “instantly connected to me and other constituents so we can discuss the important issues facing our country.” (A recording is here.) I waited a moment, and then was told that the “access live event is currently on music hold.” So much for being instantly connected.

As far as I can tell, this call was perfectly legal. It had a legitimate Caller-ID and the caller responsible was properly announced at the start of the call. My number is on the do-not-call list, but politicians conveniently exempted themselves from the TCPA – the law implementing do-not-call.

Given current laws, no action by a regulator or telephone provider against Representative Eshoo is warranted. But as a constituent, I’d ask her these questions:

  • Your web site contains several quotes regarding robocalls, including: “The American people are fed up with being harassed by robocalls and texts.” (Here’s a link.) You acknowledged on Twitter that we have a right to avoid unwanted calls. If you know we’re fed up, do you think your best course is to personally add to the barrage of calls?
  • No doubt some constituents appreciate these phone meetings. But wouldn’t it be more respectful to invite us via email, and let us opt-in? You could offer a link that I could click and sign up to be called at meeting time – and perhaps you could also offer the ability to hear a recording of the meeting later, if 6:48 PM on Thursday evening didn’t happen to be the ideal time for me.
  • Speaking of being respectful, wouldn’t it also be nice if you told me what topics were on your agenda, so I could make an informed decision about attending? And if you told me the format of the meeting, including whether I’d be able to interact and ask a question?
  • And speaking of opting, since you are currently intruding into people’s homes unsolicited, how about offering an opt-out function, both on the initial call and via your web site? (I did call your office and they promised to remove me from the call list.)

I appreciate the ability to stay in touch with my elected officials, but I’d like to do it on mutually-agreeable terms. Ultimately, we want to get a handle on BOTH illegal and unwanted calls. Since unwanted is determined by each call recipient, callers need to provide a way to accept and honor that input from us – ideally BEFORE they make their calls, even if legal.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. An update: I was in Washington DC this week, so I stopped into Rep. Eshoo’s office. Her Chief of Staff, Matthew McMurray, was kind enough to spend several minutes with me discussing the Tele Town Halls. He indicated that they get lots of positive feedback from people that participate and enjoy these events — and thus they don’t plan to scale back their outbound calling. He assured me that I would be taken off of their call list. A few points that came out of our conversation:

    A) Matt and I agree that the calls are perfectly legal. He points out that compared to many of the illegal calls, theirs are not scams or deceptive.

    B) I say the robocall problem is death by a thousand cuts. And even if their calls are more like an annoying scratch to some people, rather than a machete or a butcher knife, they still add to my pain.

    C) Matt points out that if there weren’t so many evil calls, the occasional calls from Rep. Eshoo (eight per year) wouldn’t be that bothersome. On the other hand, I say, if Rep. Eschoo calls me, and my two senators call me, and my state- and county-level reps all call me — pretty soon we’re back to too many calls.

    D) Matt agreed that having an opt-out option as part of the phone call itself, and potentially on the web site as well, were ideas worth investigating.

    When calls are legal and even wanted by some people, what’s the respectful thing for an organization to do in terms of addressing different desires? One idea: Of all the people you call, how many choose to participate, vs. how many hang up? If Rep. Eshoo places 1,000 calls, and 500 stay connected, that’s a great hit rate — 50%. But what if it takes 10,000 calls to get 500 connected? That means 9,500 people are getting interrupted when they probably didn’t want to be. If your connect rate doesn’t meet some threshold — perhaps 25% — maybe you ought to consider an opt-in approach (where people ASK to be called) rather than opt-out. I don’t know what the connect rate is for Rep. Eshoo, but I’m sure the town-hall service that she uses could tell her.

    I thank Matt for meeting with me and trust, given his boss’s interest in the topic, we can maintain a constructive dialog. I think Rep. Eshoo could set a great example and establish some best practices for her 534 colleagues regarding these sorts of calling campaigns.

  2. Yesterday I got a letter (on actual paper via the USPS!) from Rep. Eshoo, thanking me for stopping by her office to share my views.

    She spent a few paragraphs highlighting how much (some of) her constituents enjoy her Tele Town Halls, disputing my “unwanted” label. We’re in agreement — some people like the meetings and want the calls; others do not.

    It’s not worth disputing how many are in one camp or the other. We agree that the calls are perfectly legal; she’s doing everything right in including her identification and purpose in the recorded announcement.

    My big excitement: she says “I also appreciate your suggestion to allow constituents who receive calls to opt-out of future calls. We will be implementing your excellent suggestion.”

    Fantastic! That’s really the most important thing. Letting recipients turn off future calls with the press of a button, and truly honoring that indefinitely going forward, is a great example for Rep. Eshoo to set, not just for her government colleagues but for all “legal” callers.

    Thank you, Rep. Eshoo and Chief of Staff Matthew McMurray.

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