Culture

RNC Lobbying FCC for a New Way to Annoy Us With 'Ringless' Voicemail Ads

(Shutterstock)

Never underestimate how some companies can use technology to make our lives more miserable. Many of us are dealing with the incessant annoyance of robocalls—ads auto-dialed to our cell and home phones. Despite the do not call registry established by the FCC, many callers ignore it. The only solution I’ve found that helps is the $2/month Nomorobo app available for cell phones. My only solution for getting rid of robocalls to my landline phone was to cancel the service.

But now there’s possibly a new way to annoy us being reviewed by the FCC. The Republican National Committee is pushing the agency to adopt a new technology that would allow telemarketers to leave prerecorded messages on our voicemail without the phone ever ringing, Recode reports. We would simply get a notification that a voicemail was received, mixed in, of course, with more important voicemails.

Current laws prohibit calls by telemarketers if the recipient has signed up on the do not call registry. While many ignore it, most reputable organizations and companies abide by the rules. But, apparently, they feel left out from the right to annoy us. So they want to use this new technology that avoids ringing. Their logic is that this should be legal because if the phone never rings, it’s not a call. As a result, they are now petitioning the FCC to allow this new form of messaging. They argue that they shouldn’t need our permission to auto-dial our mobile voicemail inboxes directly to leave an advertising message.

As you can imagine, this effort has drawn strong opposition from consumer groups such as the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC).

“I think it’s unfortunate that there’s a push by any political party to reduce the protections in [the robocall rules] for cellphones,” said Margot Freeman Saunders, senior counsel of the NCLC. She notes that robocalls are responsible for many consumers dropping their landline phones (as I did), and this new effort would leave us “completely overwhelmed by messages” that we can’t block.

Not only that, it would likely cause us to ignore or turn off our voicemail. It would make it more difficult to check for important messages because most of the messages would be ads. And like getting rid of our landlines due to overwhelming interruptions, it would likely cause many to just get rid of voicemail.

This rule change is being promoted by a marketing company, All About the Message LLC, which has petitioned the FCC  to legalize its ringless voicemail technology. You can read the petition here.

As the FCC considers this request, they’ve asked for others to weigh in. In a comment filed with them last week, the RNC argued to be able to auto-dial directly to our voicemail inboxes with recorded messages. The RNC, in a comment, has threatened to invoke their First Amendment rights if the FCC does not allow the ringless voicemails. The RNC argued, “Political organizations like the RNC use all manner of communications to discuss political and governmental issues and to solicit donations — including direct-to-voicemail messages. The Commission should tread carefully so as not to burden constitutionally protected political speech without a compelling interest.”

The petition also has received support from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which said, “The Commission cannot continue to sweep new technologies into this technologically archaic statute,” making reference to the current do not call regulation. Democrats, it appears, have not yet weighed in on the issue.

Should the FCC rule in its favor, companies would likely inundate us with messages on our voicemail from companies selling services and products, and organizations soliciting donations. We’d also hear from our “bank,” asking for our account number, and might even get messages from Nigeria asking us to call back to pick up the inheritance awaiting us.

Being alerted to a voicemail not only would interrupt us when an ad arrived but would make it more difficult if someone was trying to reach us with an important message. It would effectively kill the usefulness of voice mail.

Of course, all of this is being done without any opportunity to opt out.