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Thanks For Nothing, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)

There are bad ideas, and then there are terrible ideas. The American citizenry is about to be dealt a doozy, courtesy of Lee Terry, the honorable Republican representative from Nebraska, and the rationale provided thus far on a bill that opens the door for abuse of our cell phone accounts is simply nonsensical. It's no secret that when politicians meddle in issues of technology, we common folk frequently end up paying for it. Unfortunately, we’re all on the fast track to being on the losing end of yet another Washington-enabled technology mistake, and there may be no way to stop it.

Rep. Lee Terry’s Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011 is bad legislation, plain and simple. It’s another example of elected officials exceeding whatever their expertise (if any) might be, and ramming bad decisions down the country’s throat while devising some rationale for why their agenda is "OK." This one simply defies logic, and needs to be brought out into the light of day for scrutiny.

At the heart of the matter is the dreaded robo call we’ve all come to know and despise on our home phones, usually at dinner or bed time. The phone rings. You answer. A recorded voice launches into a message about something or other, and you slam the phone down. The more ambitious among us try to figure out where the call came from and how to stop it from happening again, but that usually goes nowhere. The sanctity of your home has been needlessly violated, your time is wasted, and the only one getting any satisfaction out of the equation
is the originator of the automated dialing. Grrrr.

Right now, cell phones are mostly isolated from this intrusive call spam. Because you have to pay for incoming calls to your mobile phone, the federal government has prohibited the practice of automated dialing to cell phones. Such calls would eat minutes on expensive plans, whereas on the land line they are typically free. So Washington has done right by cell phone subscribers by ensuring that nuisance callers can’t ring up our bills, and in this regard politicians have met their obligation to serve those who put them in office. But, alas, the lobbyists have gotten to Rep. Terry, and there soon may well be no safe harbor from automated dialing. And as an added bonus, you’ll get to pay for the inconvenience.

The Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011 wants to lift the ban on automated calls to cell phones. As land lines die off and more families go mobile only, lobbyists are demanding access to our cell phones. The nuance? General telemarketers would still be banned from harassing us, but many private industry groups would be allowed to robo-call in the name of providing us with information that they decide we need. Like retailers announcing big sales. And bill collectors informing us of how to pay because evidently we don't understand without the helpful information provided in the automated call.

Uh, Rep. Terry, there’s this thing called the Internet out there now, and when Americans decide they need information, they can pretty much find it at will. Your way means that my kids who have cell phones to keep in touch with Mom and Dad will get harassed in school, I’ll get bothered in meetings, and a lot of obscenities will be hurled at your friends who demand to spontaneously give us information that we are not asking for before they are hung up on mid-message. The notion that this bill somehow helps with meaningful dissemination of
information doesn’t wash, and it’s not even a creative explanation for this trash legislation.

As a parent, I’m livid about Sen. Terry’s initiative. As a cell subscriber with five lines on my plan, I’m cheesed at the notion of my minutes being wasted by unsolicited calls from people who claim to have a better sense of what information is valuable to me than I have. As a private citizen, I urge Sen. Terry to take a break from hanging with the lobbyists and actually see what those on the losing end of this bad idea think of it. And as a technologist, I see eventual rampant abuse by high-volume automated dialers potentially clogging the cell network with orders of magnitude more call traffic than they were designed for. How a federal elected official can buy into a notion that so dramatically threatens the relative peace we now enjoy on our expensive, private cell phone plans is absolutely bewildering.