Pending FTC Rule May Kill Legit Outbound Calls

by Moshe Yudkowsky

I hate unsolicited pre-recorded telephone calls. I've filed complaints with the FCC against callers, I've started an open-source project called Stop Rude Calls to screen out automated calls, and I've even been known to threaten callers with a few thousand return calls from my own equipment if they didn't stop bugging me.

On the other hand, I also make pre-recorded outbound calls — to opt-in subscribers who thank me for the service. Every year, for fifty days after the beginning of Passover, subscribers around the world receive calls from me every evening (it's a Jewish thing, ok?). This year I hope to charge subscribers a nominal fee as part of a charity campaign drive, or perhaps provide the service for free but tack on a solicitation for charity at the end of the call.

But a new US Federal Trade Commission rule may put the kibosh on my service and on many other related services. The FTC just proposed a new rule that severly restricts pre-recorded calls. Even if there's a pre-existing business relationship, the FTC rule virtually eliminates pre-recorded calls that include a soliciation.

Well, my first reaction was "Bravo!" I hate calls, pre-recorded or live, from businesses with whom I have a "pre-existing relationship" that consists of filling out a registration card or purchasing a hard drive; it's gotten so bad that I've started the Disposable Phone Number project so I can give businesses a number but then toss the numbers away. But after my friends and business colleagues at Voxeo chimed in I had second thoughts. Voxeo sounded the alarm with this analysis, and after a conversation with their in-house lawyer (a very sharp cookie) and a personal letter from the company CEO addressing some of my questions, I'm convinced they have some very legitimate concerns: The proposed FTC rule could kill many promising Phone 2.0 services, including my very own outbound calling service.

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