Here’s Why The Scourge Of Robocalls Is Getting Worse

Imagery of a red phone with a small note against the practice of robocalls.
Karen Roach / Shutterstock

Robocalls, or scripted calls made by an automated service, are considered by many to be a great annoyance. Some estimates place the number of robocalls at around 147 million per day, every day. So the chances of any single individual getting one of those calls once in a while, or more frequently, is very good indeed.

However, if you don’t want to receive those calls — and given the infrastructure currently in place — the chances of you stopping them are almost zero.

The Verge delves more deeply into the matter in a piece titled “Why robocalls have taken over your phone.” The article explains that the technology is accessible to just about anyone. There are no technical or financial hurdles to setting up a robocall system.

“The cost of doing business with that tech is also extraordinarily low: a caller might only pay a fraction of a penny per minute, and that’s only for calls that are actually answered. There’s no immediate financial hurdle preventing a company from running a system, and if even a tiny percentage of people called respond positively to the caller’s message, it was likely worth it.”

Before robocalling, telecom customers frequently complained about telemarketing calls. What the market learned from telemarketing is that it absolutely works. Furthermore, the pitch doesn’t have to work very often for it to work very well. The problem with telemarketing is the cost — those pesky humans that marketing firms have to pay in order to get the pitch out. Said firms would have to pay humans to talk to potential clients. Said employees also required a physical facility to work from, and managerial and administrative support staff — in other words, cost barriers abound.

Telemarketing firms then gained the autodialer technology, which kept feeding the human workers one call after another until someone picked up the phone. Robocall systems can do one better, inasmuch as they can handle the dialing and the call itself. They may not be as efficient as human callers, but they are a lot less expensive.

Another reason robocalling is accelerating, rather than decelerating, is that the deterrents are not strong enough. Regulatory bodies send somewhat of a mixed message. Ajit Pai, head of the FCC, is a supporter of deregulation to the point of blunting the legal instruments that some consumers may avail themselves of in order to put a stop to the pestering phone calls.

Pai believes that the TCPA — the Telephone Consumer Protection Act — has been used as a tool for consumers who are “excessively litigious.” This leads to the final reason why progress against robocalling has been nigh nonexistent. The definition of a robocall has still not been completely pinned down. The FCC considers the definition of an automated telephone dialing system “up in the air.”

Until these issues are addressed, it is unlikely that the annoying automated calls will cease.