The Growing Robocall Menace

Automated telephone calls, also known as “robocalls,” used to drive me crazy. Then they stopped, and life was quiet, peaceful and beautiful once again, but just for a few short years. Those disturbing calls have started once again, and now they are worse than ever. Why? And how can we stop them?

Robocalls typically are for telemarketing purposes. The calls are placed by automated systems. They may consist of recorded messages, or a real person may get on the line to make a telemarketing pitch once a prospect has picked up.

Sales and marketing phone calls started long before the Internet, email and social sites popped up. In the 1980s and early 1990s, companies would call you every night around dinnertime, often asking you to switch your long distance service. There were dozens of other common sales pitches as well.

Back then, there were countless companies that dialed you on a daily basis as part of their marketing efforts. It was one arrow in their advertising quiver. They never thought about or cared about how it tarnished their image in the marketplace. They just kept dialing away, driving everyone nuts.

Then the Federal Trade Commission started the National Do Not Call Registry — and surprisingly, it worked. After you signed up, most of the calls stopped. Ahhh. Peace at last.

The Rise of VoIP

After the calls started once again, years later, I thought perhaps the Do Not Call Registry had a time limit, so I signed up once again. However it didn’t help. The calls kept coming — and they got worse every year. Now I get so many crap calls every day I just want to scream! What happened?

The calls in the 1980s and 1990s were made by U.S. companies on U.S. soil using U.S. telephone networks to call people in the U.S. The callers were held to the same legal standards as any other U.S. company and had to follow the rules of the road.

Back then, companies dialed you on regular phone networks and had to pay for every call. So accepting some restrictions also meant reducing costs.

Then VoIP was born — and peace and quiet died.

Voice over Internet Protocol hit the scene in the late 1990s, allowing voice calls over the Internet rather than a telephone network. The calls were free, and there were no rules. The rules applied to traditional telephone networks, not the Internet.

Back then, VoIP used to let you hook up a speaker and microphone to your computer and make calls. It was rough, and the quality was terrible, but it was fun in those early days.

As the years passed and quality improved, larger companies started getting involved. Today, VoIP is a standard offering from a variety of telephone companies, cable companies and assorted VoIP providers for home and office.

Anything Goes

Now, roughly 20 years later, VoIP technology is far more advanced, and the quality is much better. However, it still is not subject to the same rules and regulation as a telephone network. That means companies can use VoIP to make those annoying robocalls once again — and they have.

Often, there is no additional cost to make a VoIP call once the equipment is set up. So, while companies saved money in the past by not calling people who were not interested, that is no longer a reason to avoid making a call. So they call.

Many VoIP robocalls come from overseas. International robocalling would not have been conceivable over regular phone networks. It would have been prohibitively expensive. However, it now may cost no more to call around the world than across the street.

U.S. laws and regulations have absolutely no power or control over this growing problem. Calling companies are controlled by their countries’ rules and regulations.

That’s why robocalls are flaring up once again. So are we out of luck? Is there any solution?

All Hands on Deck

I was a guest on a radio talk show last week, discussing this issue along with Tim Marvin, a grassroots coordinator with the Consumers Union.

There may be some helpful tools, such

There are many other tools that companies have invented to solve this problem. However, none has been shown to solve it.

There has to be a solution, doesn’t there? Of course, the solution would have to be low or no cost to the end user, and to the companies providing their home phone service as well.

The time is right. The time is now. Come on, somebody. Anybody. Give us a solution! We all want to go back to our quiet and peaceful lives.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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