- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

Victor Symonette, a 49-year-old orchestra conductor, likes to sleep late on Sundays. So he pays his phone company, Verizon, $10 per month to block telemarketing calls that used to wake his family.
"The last thing I want to hear is a telemarketer at 8 in the morning," said Mr. Symonette, his soothing baritone rising in anger. "You don't expect anyone to call you at that hour. You think it's an emergency."
Americans like Mr. Symonette pay $2 billion a year to block pushy calls from peddlers of credit cards, satellite TV and real estate, said Robert Bulmash of the privacy group Private Citizen.
For regional phone companies like Verizon, Qwest, SBC and BellSouth, privacy services like caller ID and security screen are a growing revenue source.
But the phone companies aren't just trying to thwart sales calls. They're also helping telemarketers make them.
Telecoms sell telemarketers high-capacity lines and sophisticated "predictive dialing" machines that have helped unleash a stampede of automated sales calls.
Some, including Qwest and Verizon, even sell home numbers of the same customers who buy their privacy services unless they pay a fee to have their numbers unlisted.
"The phone companies are like arms merchants in a technological war between telemarketers and phone subscribers," said privacy advocate Jason Catlett. "They profit from both sides."
Customers of carriers including BellSouth and Sprint which say they don't sell numbers still surrender their privacy to firms that scan and sell white-pages data. Verizon spokeswoman Catherine Lewis says the company isn't playing telemarketers and consumers against each other.
"I don't think it's a case of we should pick one side over the other," she said. "We do serve both sides."
It ought to be illegal, says Mr. Bulmash, whose group publishes the book "So You Want to Sue a Telemarketer." He says he has helped members collect $1.4 million from telemarketers.
"If Terminix were to throw termites on my foundation, then bang on my door saying 'Hey, you've got termites, we can get rid of them,' the attorney general would be all over them," Mr. Bulmash said. "The phone companies are doing the same thing."
Telemarketing has grown so widespread and become such a nuisance, some say that the two regulating federal agencies, the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, are exploring the creation of a nationwide "do-not call" list similar to those many states have created.
An FCC memo says telemarketers attempt 104 million calls a day to U.S. businesses and consumers. Sales revenue has risen from about $435 billion in 1990 to around $660 billion last year.
A calling machine called the predictive dialer is responsible for the boom, which in turn has spurred an "arms race" with call-blocking devices for consumers. The race began with consumer caller-ID boxes and anonymous number blocking. When telemarketers "spoofed" them with fake numbers, consumer devices got smarter.
Mr. Symonette, for instance, bought a $150 Siemens phone that speaks the caller's name and number, so he won't actually have to get out of bed to learn who's calling.

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