When I was a teenager, way back in the 20th century, I wanted, coveted, even occasionally whined for my own phone, and eventually I got it, much to the disadvantage of my wallet, which was emptied to the tune of twenty-someodd bucks every month for the dubious privilege of having my very own number. And now, decades later, we're well into the 21st century, I'm paying around $50 a month for a landline, and I hate it, because ninety percent of incoming calls are from people I wouldn't talk to if you paid me.

I have, of course, taken steps to address this matter. First: signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry. At the time, this was a temporary measure: after so many years, my number would roll off the list and I'd have to sign up again. In 2007, the Congress passed (and in 2008, the President signed) a law prohibiting the automatic removal of numbers on the Registry, which took care of that issue.

Still, the Registry couldn't cure all my incoming-call ills, because it was designed with built-in exceptions:

The ... Registry does not prevent all unwanted calls. It does not cover the following:
  • calls from organizations with which you have established a business relationship;
  • calls for which you have given prior written permission;
  • calls which are not commercial or do not include unsolicited advertisements;
  • calls by or on behalf of tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

This means, for instance, that if I used to have a credit card with Ginormous Bank and Trust Company (Member FDIC), even if I've canceled it they can still call me and offer me their usual bad deal.

The FCC has rules on Caller ID, which seem to be more honored in the breach:

FCC rules specifically require that a telemarketer:
  • transmit or display its telephone number, and, if possible, its name or the name and telephone number of the company for which it is selling products or services.
  • display a telephone number that you can call during regular business hours to ask to no longer be called. This rule applies even to companies that already have an established business relationship with you.

About a quarter to a third of incoming calls conform to those rules. Several have come in identifying themselves as a state (usually Florida); an increasing number are showing up as Out of Area, which is supposedly discouraged.

And I installed a personal blocking device last year, which I have set to ignore all calls from toll-free numbers and any regular numbers that I should happen to choose. (They're not actually ignored: instead, they're routed to the answering machine before the phone gets a chance to ring.) Still, there are plenty of first-time offenders that have to be dealt with, and there's no "Block Everyone Except..." list available, so I'm still getting calls from people I wouldn't talk to if they paid me.

So: what if they did pay me? Just suppose there were a mechanism whereby a marketer or pollster or other waste of oxygen got access to my number only if they paid a fee (let's say $1) directly to my service provider, which in turn would credit 50 cents against my monthly bill and pocket the rest as a service charge. Why, it would almost be worth it to talk to Ginormous Bank and Trust Company again.


The Vent

  1 October 2008

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 Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill