Saturday, December 17, 2011

Robocall Bill Dies in the House

A controversial bill that would have largely lifted the restrictions on robocalls to cellular phones has failed.

When first introduced, the bill was billed as a noncontroversial “technical correction” that should pass quickly and without much discussion. Its author, Lee Terry, said it wasn’t fair to businesses that they couldn’t robocall their customers who didn’t have, or refused to disclose, land-line phone numbers. The bill would have lifted those restrictions, allowing utility companies, banks, bill collectors, retailers, and others to place robocalls with virtually no restrictions. It was supported by large banks, utility companies, and phone companies.

But it was hard to find anyone else to support it. Internet commenters didn’t have any sympathy for the bill or its author. Consumer groups worried about the billions of unwanted calls that would have resulted. A letter from 48 state attorney generals warned Congress of the possible consequences. After 10,000 constituents called to oppose the bill, and 200,000 people signed petitions against it, Terry was finally forced to withdraw it.

That the bill advanced as far as it did, though, is a sign of what is wrong with the economy. Powerful commercial interests advance imagined solutions for their own problems without giving any thought to the consequences, including the hassles they are creating for others. Those hassles, then, are what ruin the economy.

Robocalls have already ruined the wireline telephone business. Unchecked, they could bring down the entire telephone network, as people stopped answering their phones. It is only people who aren’t imagining the whole picture who could imagine that this would be a form of progress.