Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Who "Owns" My Telephone, Anyway?

The Washington Post reports today on growing frustration with campaign phone calls:

This year's heavy volume of automated political phone calls has infuriated countless voters and triggered sharp complaints from Democrats, who say the Republican Party has crossed the line in bombarding households with recorded attacks on candidates in tight House races nationwide.

Some voters, sick of interrupted dinners and evenings, say they will punish the offending parties by opposing them in today's elections. But critics say Republicans crafted the messages to delude voters -- especially those who hang up quickly -- into thinking that Democrats placed the calls.

Republicans denied the allegation, noting that their party acknowledges its authorship at the recorded calls' end. After citizens' complaints in New Hampshire, however, the National Republican Congressional Committee agreed to end the calls to households on the federal do-not-call list, even though the law exempts political messages from such restrictions.

Whether "robo-calls" are positive or negative, mean-spirited or humorous, thousands of Americans are sick of them, according to campaign organizations that have been fielding complaints over the past two weeks.

Two points are worth emphasizing.

First, I think that the telephone subscriber should be given maximal opportunity to restrict the type of number of phone calls received. There should be a do-not call option for all solicitations, including those from political candidates. Answering the question posed in the title, I own my telephone, and I would lobby the government to give me greater freedom to prevent someone else from intruding through it. I'd also pay money to any company that would help me restrict such access through new technology.

Second, hanging up immediately is the non-cooperative response to this problem. When the Samwick household receives unsolicited phone calls (and I'm talking about you, Car Store), we employ either of two strategies that have a common element. If the VoxSon is feeling punchy, we let him answer the phone and have a little fun. Otherwise, we answer the phone, possibly responding that we will "go get" the person in question, and then just put the phone down.

The common element here is that we keep the offender on the line as long as possible. This prevents the offender from bothering the next household on the call list until the offender terminates the call. This is the way to tax the resources (i.e. time) of the offender, making the enterprise less profitable and thus less likely in the future. If we all cooperated to employ this strategy, we would all be better off for it.

So the next time your phone doesn't ring during dinner, you can be grateful to me, since I'm probably keeping that telemarketer on the line. But whatever you do, don't call to thank me.


Chris said...

I have a service from Verizon that has essentially eliminated all unsolicited calls.
Basically, if the caller does not have a name associated with their Calller ID you get a pre-connection prompt that asks if you want to talk to - and they rpovide a spoken name.

It beats all of the automated dialers and most of the personal solicitation.

I can't remember the last time I got an unsolicited call - well worth the $5/month.

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