Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Don't Ban Robocalls Outright

by Moses Ross, PoliticalRoboCalls.com

[In another guest editorial from someone with subject-matter expertise, today we're happy to give you Moses Ross--a professional "robocaller"--who explains why SB 863 is bad law as written. The effort is led by Senator Rick Metsger (S26), who chairs the Business, Transportation and Workforce Development Committee that will hear the bill first. While at first blush it sounds like a good idea among liberals to get rid of annoying recorded phone calls, it's always wise to be skeptical, and indeed there's a little more to the story that should make progressives cautious about signing on...]

Robocalls, those automated phone calls that are so popular with mortgage companies and satellite providers as well as politicians, are in the news in Oregon.

The state legislature is considering two bills to regulate automated phone calls. One would require the consent of the person being called unless for a "legitimate" purpose, ie. business, public safety or school related matters. The other would ask voters to allow a change in the Oregon Constitution to specifically ban them.

Before passing judgement on the need for such extreme measures such as banning them, I encourage you to learn the facts.

Robocalls are categorized as automated telemarketing calls, regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Rules were adopted that require anyone making these calls to provide their name, the name of the person or entity on whose behalf the call is being made in both the message and in the Caller ID and a telephone number or address at which that person or entity can be contacted. They don’t allow calls to cell phones and prohibit calls before 8am or after 9pm. Consumers can register their phone number with a national do-not-call registry and you’re not permitted to make sales calls to those that have registered.

Fines for non-compliance start at $500 per violation, tripled if it is shown that the caller willfully and knowingly violated the rules. Filing a complaint with the FCC doen't prevent you from also bringing suit in state court as well.

Exempt from these laws are calls from non-profit organizations and political organizations such as candidates, elected officials and political groups.

They are exempt for political organizations because robocalls serve the same purpose as other forms of political communications, to educate and inform voters. Their low cost per contact allows for broader communication with voters. They are used to educate voters about pending legislation or to notify them of town hall meetings. In fact, robocalls qualify for "franking", the term used for official communications between elected officials and their constiuents.

The bad rap that robocalls have received is because of the unethical use of these calls, primarly by conservative groups and their attack dog advocacy groups. If you look up robocalls in Google and review all the negative instances of robocalls, most, if not all instances, are from those conservative groups misusing them.

Our company follows a strict code of ethics. We did over one million calls in the 2006 election cycle, all for Democratic campaigns and causes and not ONE was a negative message. We follow the federal regulations of calling between 9am and 9pm only and eliminate all cell phones from the call lists.

That is the proper use of robocalls. We would not accept negative broadcasts and we remained in integrity with the existing federal regulations. If the companies and the candidates that use them used them ethically and within federal regulations we wouldn't need to regulate them on the state level.

Also, in Oregon, we already have a way you can stop receiving these calls, unlike broadcast and printed political messages. Campaigns in Oregon get the phone numbers from the voter file. If you don't want to receive these calls, simply have you number removed from your record at your county elections office.

I have no problem with the state requiring the same standards of disclosure as is required with broadcast or print political ads. That would be VERY appropriate. But banning them is wrong and takes us down a slippery slope of banning political speech.