Congress should block effort to allow robocalls

Legislation has been proposed that would allow automated calls to cellphones. The plan is bad for consumers.

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Outrage is likely the reaction when most folks get wind of a proposal being pitched in Congress to allow automated calls to be placed to our cellphones by telemarketers and others.

The outrage is more than justified. The members of Congress who are behind this egregious plan are kowtowing to business at the expense of consumers.

Since 1991, autodialers and artificial or prerecorded voice messages to cellphones have generally been outlawed unless the consumer gives prior consent, according to The Chicago Tribune. The proposal in Congress would allow these automated calls, often referred to as robocalls, to cellphones without permission.

Supporters of this measure twist the motivation, claiming "robocalling" would actually help consumers because it would allow helpful features such as reminding patients about a doctor appointment, alerting them to a flight delay or notifying them of a suspicion their credit card has been compromised.

The fact is those calls can already be made to home phones and cellphones if the customer gives permission. So the simple solution is for medical clinics, airlines and credit card companies to ask costumers if they want a courtesy call to their cellphones.

It's clear the overriding motivation here is to gain access to cellphones to sell products. As more people have only cellphones the number of potential customers for telemarketers is shrinking.

In addition, debt collectors want access to cellphones so they can apply pressure to force payments.

Now, we aren't against debt collectors being able to do their jobs, but this proposal goes far beyond pinpointing collections.

A coalition of consumer advocates called the bill "a wolf in sheep's clothing," The Chicago Tribune reported.

"The real purpose of (the bill) is to open up everyone's cellphones, land lines, and business phone numbers, without their consent, to a flood of commercial, marketing and debt collection calls," according to an Oct. 27 letter from consumer groups to the House subcommittee that's considering the bill. The letter went on to say that the proposed legislation would gut the "widely popular statute that protects Americans from the proliferation of intrusive, nuisance calls from telemarketers and others."

While unwanted calls to home phones are annoying, unwanted calls to cellphones will be annoying and could also be expensive to those who don't have unlimited minutes in their calling plans.

Congress should reject this outrageous proposal to protect the public from unwanted, intrusive and expensive robocalls to our cellphones.

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