Last month the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held hearings on proposed legislation creatively entitled The Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011.
Essentially, a lot has changed since the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was passed back in 1991. Many people have switched from land line telephones to mobile phones and the Act placed restrictions on calling mobile phones.
Rep Greg Walden, the subcommittee chairman, has this to say:
The thrust of the TCPA was to help protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. The question now, however, is whether the TCPA is inadvertently preventing consumers from the convenience of getting other information they do want while they’re on the go with their mobile phones.
From the background memo:
The aim of the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011 is to permit informational calls to mobile devices.
I still have a land line and I can tell you that I have yet to receive an informational phone call that I have wanted let alone found useful. Such useless calls would just waste minutes on my cell phone. And with every election season my answering machine fills up with information calls from non-profit political organizations who have been given free rein to pester me with such information whether it's misleading or not.
Anyone see the incongruity in this statement from the background memo?
Congress passed the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to protect telephone customers from intrusive telephone marketing while balancing those protections against the needs of businesses and non-profits to communicate and inform consumers. At the time, most states had rules restricting telemarketing practices, but Congress found that telemarketers used the interstate telephone system to evade those state-by-state restrictions.
Normally Republicans complain about the size and power of the federal government and claim they want to reduce it and give the states the power to decide for themselves. Years ago Congress found that telemarketers could evade state-by-state restrictions. But with health care the Republicans would like to allow health insurance companies to do that very same practice.
More from Weldon:
But it’s been twenty years since Congress passed the TCPA, and the world of telecommunications has changed. Back then, the only person with a cell phone was Gordon Gecko. Today, many American households have given up the landline and rely exclusively on wireless service. Back then, wireless customers paid higher per-minute rates to receive calls; now, most consumers have buckets of minutes so that receiving an additional call costs them nothing. Given these changes to the market, now seems like a good time to revisit some of the rules the TCPA put in place.
He's right that the issue should be revisited and I hope Congress is smart about this. (Wishful thinking on my part, eh?) It will be difficult to allow for the many type of cell phone plans. Not everyone has "buckets of minutes". Government agencies often have restrictions on how their cell phones may be used. People with prepaid phones would probably take exception having their minutes used up by information calls.
Weldon is not done yet.
Does the TCPA prevent consumers from receiving informational calls from their banks like fraud or low-balance alerts? Do the strictures of the TCPA and the FCC’s implementation of it make it too difficult for businesses to engage their customers and provide them valuable services? What is the proper role for states in protecting the privacy of telephone subscribers?
You'll notice he doesn't talk about non-profit political organizations being the primary source of informational calls. Like I indicated above, that's been my experience.
You know what else is missing? He doesn't mention job creators.